Per unclassified information released by the United States Coast Guard after the Fitzgerald’s sinking, it was also equipped with an extensive communications suite. Nearly 50 years ago, Great Lakes shipping was complex business, and ships were always in contact with one another and parties on the ground. After all, shipments need to be made safely and on time.
The SS Edmund Fitzgerald was fitted with five multi-channel radios that had access to a wide range of frequencies. Additionally, it had two radar sets for scanning the surface of the water for any potential obstacles. Interestingly, the Coast Guard also states that the Fitzgerald was not fitted with any hardware to gauge the depth of the water it was traversing, as shipping qualifications from the time did not require such a device.
The mystery of the Edmund Fitzgerald surrounds its sinking, as there has not been any sort of consensus as to how the ship was lost. There are two prevailing theories: According to the Coast Guard, often responsible for investigating civilian maritime disasters, loose hatches on the Fitzgerald’s topside caused water to rush in and eventually sink the ship.
The other hypothesis is that a large wave in the storm caused the front of the ship (the bow) to plunge under the sea and take on water that way. Either way it sank, the Edmund Fitzgerald’s crew didn’t send out a single distress signal. When the ship was surveyed in 1976, it was found that the ship was split in two, showing that the bow potentially slammed into the bottom of Lake Superior. Eventually the Fitzgerald’s bell was recovered in 1994, and is currently on display at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Whitefish Point, Michigan.