In his latest book, [Frederick] Stonehouse lays out the myriad theories surrounding the Fitzgerald disaster, including unsecured hatch covers, deferred maintenance, a trio of 30-foot-plus rogue waves known as “Three Sisters,” and the notion that the ship either was structurally unsound or off-course.
“Others have talked about space aliens that supposedly were seen on the northern shore of the lake,” Stonehouse said dismissively in a recent telephone interview with The Detroit News.That is interesting, because Stonehouse was for a long time a scathing critic of the Lake Carriers Association report which advanced the shoaling theory. He plainly regarded it as butt-covering, if plausible. It is beyond dispute that the Fitz was straying into the area known as the Six Fathom Shoal.
After years of research, he’s inclined to believe that the ship likely hit a shoal and took on dangerous amounts of water even as it was buffeted by hurricane-force winds and blinding snow squalls. Stonehouse said he came to that conclusion gradually, based on conversations with Capt. Bernie Cooper, who was the last to speak to the Fitzgerald’s captain. Cooper’s ship, the Arthur M. Anderson, was closest to the Fitzgerald during the treacherous storm.
“In my mind and if I were to put money on it, she probably hit Caribou Shoal,” Stonehouse said, emphasizing, however, that there’s no proof of that. “She bottomed out and continued forward for a while before the damage finally broke her up. The damage, in combination with the extreme storm, caused the ship to dive to the bottom.”
In my earlier edition of his book, he blamed the wreck on defective hatch covers and the unwise decision to increase the ship's load limit. I tended to agree with his earlier argument, but now...looks like I'll need another book.