Review: The Trial of the Edmund Fitzgerald: Eyewitness Accounts from the U.S. Coast Guard Hearings

The Trial of the Edmund Fitzgerald: Eyewitness Accounts from the U.S. Coast Guard Hearings by Michael Schumacher

The sinking of the Great Lakes freighter Edmund Fitzgerald in November of 1975 created an enduring mystery, and enduring interest. The success of Gordon Lightfoot's song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" in 1976 contributed to that interest and, as he sang back then "the legend lives on".

Twenty-nine lives were lost on the Fitzgerald. The ship "disappeared" from radar indicating it was quickly sunk with no time for the crew to abandon ship. The wreck site is in Canadian waters and has been designated a gravesite by Canada, precluding any further diving or exploration beyond the original official investigative ROV (and a few other limited dives prior to the designation). There remains enough that is unclear and unknown that we will never have a full accounting of what happened to cause the sinking of the ship.

In The Trial of the Edmund Fitzgerald Michael Schumacher provides excerpts from testimony made before the Coast Guard's Marine Board of Inquiry into the wreck. The advantage of this approach, as Schumacher explains in the Preface, is that it gives the reader the opportunity to understand the story of the sinking through the words of those on Lake Superior in the same storm, those who searched for the Fitzgerald and it's crew, and those who discovered and recovered wreckage. The excerpts are compelling, especially the testimony of Bernie Cooper, the captain of the Arthur M Anderson, which was following the Fitzgerald, and in contact with her through the storm.

Schumacher also includes three documents - the Marine Board's Report, the Lake Carrier's Association letter of dissent (written in response the the Marine Board report), and the National Transportation Safety Board's Accident Report.

These three do not agree with each other as to the cause of the sinking. The Lake Carrier's Association maintains that the Fitzgerald had suffered hull damage by passing over shoals prior to sinking, and that the water that entered the cargo hold came from below. Both the Coast Guard and the NTSB disagree with that, noting that no sign of scraping of the hull was found by the ROV exploration of the wreck site in 1976. Both the Marine Board and the NTSB instead find that water entered the cargo hold from above board and contributed to the sinking in heavy seas, though each has a different account of how that may have happened.

This is Schumacher's second book on the Edmund Fitzgerald, and this one was inspired by the research into the Marine Board testimony he'd done for his first (Mighty Fitz).

I rate this book three stars ⭐⭐⭐. I liked this book. If you are interested in the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, you might like it too.

I checked this book out from my local library using OverDrive. Originally I checked out and listened to the audiobook, with narration by Traber Burns. Even though the book is structured as a series of statements from Board testimony, followed by the three documents, it worked surprisingly well as an audiobook and I thought Traber Burns did an excellent job of it. However, after finishing the audiobook I went back and checked out the ebook, which contains charts and photos that really add to the story. 

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