Search and Discovery

History of the Edmund Fitzgerald–Discovery and Exploration

The site of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald was located on November 14, 1975, just 4 days after her sinking. The area was surveyed by the 180-foot Coast Guard Cutter Woodrush, which was equipped with side-scan sonar.

The survey indicated two objects, in close proximity to each other, each roughly 300 feet in length, at a depth of 530 feet. A “roughened” area between the objects was suggested to be cargo. Because of the depths involved, and the recurring bad weather in the area, this method of surveying the site was deemed inadequate, and the Marine Board suggested contracting the project to Seaward, Inc., of Falls Church, Virginia.

A second survey expedition was undertaken on November 22, 1975, again using the Woodrush as the primary ship. Despite deplorable weather, over 80 runs across the wreck site were made, and navigational fixes were established. These navigational points allowed for the construction of a model of the wreck site, based upon the information gathered from the 80 runs across the site.

Based upon these results, the Marine Board concluded that this was the probable resting place of the Fitzgerald. However, as the possibility existed that the site could be two separate ships, and not the Fitzgerald at all, it was recommended the a visual inspection be conducted.

Again using the Woodrush as the research platform, the Controlled Underwater Recovery Vehicle (CURV III) of the U.S. Navy was employed to visually inspect the wreck site in May, 1976. This survey confirmed the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

She currently rests in two pieces at the bottom of Lake Superior. Her bow section is upright and apparently has been “driven” into the ground. The stern section rests upside down and behind the bow, forming a “vee” shape. Between the two pieces of the hull rests a debris field of iron ore.

Despite over 56 hours on the wreck, the actual cause of the wreck was never determined.


Marshall, J.R. (1992). Shipwrecks of Lake Superior. Duluth, Minnesota: Lake Superior Port Cities, Inc.

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