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When the witch of November came: 39 years since the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Monday, November 10, 2014, 2:00 PM - November 10, 1975, is a date that weighs heavy on mariners on both sides of the Great Lakes.
It marks the now-famous Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, and the loss of all 29 of her crew, victims of a strong storm on Lake Superior.
The ship, launched in 1958, spent much of its service hauling iron ore from Minnesota to steel mills in Michigan and Ohio, according to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. It was laden with 26,000 tons of the stuff when it left Silver Bay, Minnesota, on November 9, bound for Detroit.
The weather deteriorated badly over the course of their journey, with storm warnings issued for November 10. Waves in the area were more than 7 m, along with strong winds of more than 125 km/h - the equivalent of a low-end Category 1 hurricane.
The last anyone heard of the Edmund Fitzgerald was a radio transmission between the ship and another vessel, the Arthur S. Anderson, at around 7:10.
The Anderson tracked the ship for some time, keeping in touch with the coast guard. The Shipwreck museum posted one of their conversations about the Fitzgerald to Youtube:
The Anderson struggled to find the missing ship, but found no trace aside from debris and two empty lifeboats. Severe weather hindered other vessels from joining the search for some time.
Although sonar scans detected two large pieces of wreckage beneath the waves, it wasn't until May 1976 when an underwater vehicle confirmed it was indeed the remains of the ship.
The coast guard's report, released in 1977, said "the most probable cause of the sinking of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald was the loss of buoyancy and stability resulting from massive flooding of the cargo hold. The flooding of the cargo hold took place through ineffective hatch closures as boarding seas rolled along the spar deck."
However, there was always some controversy over what caused the sinking, and in 2010 a documentary on the sinking said there was not enough evidence to conclude the sinking was due to poorly secured hatches, and that the cause might have been a rogue wave.
The news actually prompted Gordon Lightfoot to change the lyrics of his iconic "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" in live performances to reflect the new findings.
Regardless of the exact cause of the sinking, the conditions encountered by the Edmund Fitzgerald were a prime example of the powerful weather phenomenon known as the Witches of November.
Those are intense fall storms that occur when warmer air clashes with colder air from the north, bringing blizzard-like conditions, tornadoes and powerful, hurricane-level winds.
READ MORE: Canada has no shortage of major shipwrecks. Here are seven of the worst.