Expeditions to the Fitz Wrecksite

Image courtesy Roger LeLievre

Image courtesy Roger LeLievre

Many expeditions to the wreckage of the Edmund Fitzgerald have taken place in the past thirty years in an attempt to survey the wreck and shed light on the cause of the tragedy. Here are brief outlines of a few of the major expeditions. The illustration on the bottom of this page is courtesy of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society and was created by Peter Rindlisbacher.

May 1976 - U.S. Coast Guard Expedition

During the initial expedition made by the United States Coast Guard in May, 1976, many new discoveries were made. One of these things was the ship itself! The ship was discovered only a few days after the sinking, but this expedition officially determined that the wreckage was the Edmund Fitzgerald through identification of the hull and the name on the ships. Hundreds of photos were taken, and the official United States Coast Guard report was issued following the analysis of the data collected during the expedition. After its investigation, the Coast Guard announced its highly controversial theory that the ship sank due to faulty hatch covers, spawning anger from some and disbelief from researchers and family members.

September 1980 - Calypso Expedition

On September 24, 1980, the second major expedition to the Edmund Fitzgerald wreck site commenced. The expedition took place under the leadership of Jacques Cousteau's son, Jean Michel. Cousteau owned the ship that the expedition was named after, the Calypso.

The wreck was explored with the help of a two-man submarine operated by Albert Falco and Colin Mounier and the purpose of the trip was the production of a film about the Saint Lawrence River and its tributaries. The final version contained a few glimpses of the Fitzgerald, but not much was learned (about the Fitzgerald) during the expedition. Following the expedition, the group claimed to discover that the ship broke in two on the surface and did not sink very quickly, though this cannot be verified due to no eyewitness accounts.

August 1989 - Remote Operated Vehicle Expedition

Under the organization of Michigan Sea Grant, in late August, 1989, the Edmund Fitzgerald was again explored with the highly technological Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV). The exploration included many experts including: the NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration), the National Geographical Society, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, US Army Corps, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The R.V. Grayling was the primary ship utilized in the expedition.

During this expedition some of the discoveries made were very haunting. Once again, determination could not be made on the cause of the sinking, but there was still glass intact on the ship, and there was also a door on the pilothouse that was open. This could lead people to believe that someone tried to escape since the door was not "dogged." The team also claimed some of the damage on the bow could not have been caused by the storm...it was far too extensive.

1994 - Frederick Shannon "DeepQuest" Expedition

This DeepQuest series of seven dives was lead by businessman Frederick Shannon between July 25 and July 27, 1994 and got very close video footage of the Edmund Fitzgerald wrecksite. The video footage is some of the clearest obtained, and the expedition gained notoriety when it was disclosed that a body was discovered among the wreckage (wearing a life vest). On the final (seventh) dive, a memorial plaque was left near the pilot house.

July 1994 - MacInnis Expedition

This expedition, called "Great Lakes 94," was a six-week expedition surveying the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence River. It was conducted under the supervision of Dr. Joseph MacInnis. On the expedition with the team was Executive Director of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, Mr. Tom Farnquist. Mr. Farnquist made observations during the expedition, and claimed to have concluded that it was almost impossible that the ship broke in two on the surface. This theory is in contrast to other divers' theories, but is no more or less plausible. In addition to these discoveries, more extensive damage than previously reported was discovered, and taconite pellets were also found scattered all over the wrecksite and lake floor.

1995 - Bell Recovery

Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum

Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum

Under the cooperation and direction of several organizations, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society retrieved the bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1995 by request of many of the Edmund Fitzgerald families. The bell was restored following its recovery and is currently displayed in the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Whitefish Point Michigan. 

To learn more about the 1995 restoration of the Fitzgerald bell, see our Bell Restoration page.