Captain McSorely wanted to make one last run of the season. The Edmund Fitzgerald, also known as the, "Big Fitz," took on an entirely volunteer crew for that run. For those of you who have not visited the great lakes, their size and scope are hard to believe. There is a reason why those of us who live in this region of the country refer to our home as America's North Coast. Ships get lost at sea on the smallest of the greats, which is Lake Ontario. At the time of her commissioning, The Big Fitz was the largest of the lake carriers.
The ship was built and owned by Northwestern Mutual's general fund. It was named after that company's founder, and leased to Olgebay Norton Corporation. Olgebay Norton was one of America's major steel producers headquartered in Cleveland Ohio. The Fitzgerald was heading for shelter in Whitefish Bay. She began early in the day to take on water, but Captain McSorely had been monitoring the ship's bilge pumps and had reported several times that they would be able to put in to shore. The Arthur M. Anderson was in trouble and had lost her high gain radar. The Fitzgerald actually slowed her speed and held back to allow the Anderson to follow her lights to Whitefish bay. The last transmission made by McSorely was, "we're holding our own." Minutes after receiving that transmission, the Anderson lost sight of the Fitzgerald lights. Captain Jesse B., "Bernie," Cooper radioed into the USCG at Whitefish Point that he had lost sight of the Fitzgerald immediately.
In the aftermath of the wreck there were several theories as to what caused the wreck, but none were ultimately settled upon. The ship was found the next day, split in two on the bottom of Lake Superior. Several people attempted to lay the blame at the feet of Captain McSorely, including the NTSB. In the end though, the USCG was also found to be complacent in their issuance of an order for all ships to find safe anchor. The Fitzgerald was not the only ship still on the lake at the time she went down. There were of course several changes made in the practices of lake carriers as suggested by the various government agencies authorized to make such decisions, including the USCG, the NTSB, and the NOAA.
UPDATE: Hattip Bunkx
This is the last interview of Capt. Bernie Cooper of the Arthur M. Anderson conducted by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society before he passed in 1993. The Anderson was 10 miles behind the Fitzgerald in the teeth of Lake Superior during that fateful night of November 10th, 1975 when all 29 men went down. Hear a first hand account of what it was like that night and Capt. Coopers theories on what may have happened to the Fitz.