So my newsbot spits out the following articles about Tom Farnquist and the Edmund Fitzgerald:
In short, a group calling itself the Whitefish Point Preservation Society has accused Tom Farnquist and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society of conducting an illegal dive on the Edmund Fitzgerald in 2002. In Canada, diving on "historical" shipwrecks is highly regulated. And the Fitz is pretty much off limits now. The Ontario government is investigating.
I have my doubts this is true (which I will expand on below).
What is not in doubt is that the GLSHS conducted a sidescan sonar survey of the wreck and then provided the footage to the History Channel program, Deep Sea Detectives. This seems to have annoyed the Ontario bureaucrats. I don't know if this violates the law, or not. I'm interested in the diving accusation. Before I get into the allegation, let me take you for a quick history of the exploration of the wreck:
- On November 10, 1975 the 729 foot great lakes freighter Edmund Fitzgerald sank with all hands approximately 17 miles northwest of Whitefish Point, Michigan. The wreck lies in two pieces in Canadian territorial waters at a depth of approximately 550 feet. For more on the ship and the sinking, go here.
- Several submarine and ROV expeditions were conducted between 1975 and 1994 to attempt to determine the cause of her sinking, including one in 1980 by Jean Michel Cousteau.
- In 1994, an expedition led by Dr. Joseph MacInnis obtained photographs of the remains of some of the dead crewmen with the intention to publish them. The bodies are purportedly exceptionally well preserved. This created a firestorm of controversy from the families (the first of many). Farnquist was an advisor to this expedition.
- In 1995, the only confirmed and legal scuba dive on the Edmund Fitzgerald was conducted by Mike Zee and Terrance Tysall. Their dive profile included a five minute descent, twelve minutes with a max depth of 530 feet at the bow section of the wreck and three-plus hours of decompression. The divers trained for nearly a year and this dive was completed under the utmost of secrecy. How was it legal?...At the time, the Ontario government occasionally issued blanket archaeological permits for all historical shipwrecks and this dive was conducted under the auspices of one of those permits. Of course, the subsequent uproar from the families caused that practice to be discontinued!
- 1995 also marked the famous National Geographic expedition (using submersibles) to recover the bell and leave a plaque commemorating the crew. You have probably seen it on the Discovery Channel. Tom Farnquist also collaborated on this expedition and the bell now resides at the museum he runs at Whitefish Point.
Well, I seriously doubt that Tom Farnquist, or anyone on his team dove the Fitz! A 530 foot dive in Lake Superior is simply beyond the capabilities of just about every diver out there. We're talking about a 3-4 hour dive in 35 degree water on a VERY temperamental body of water. I cannot emphasize enough the exceptional skill level (and questionable sanity....) of both Tysall and Zee (who I've been diving with several times).
Second, Tom's organization has a submersible ROV at its disposal! Why put a diver's life at extreme risk?
Third, The GLSHS has enough political pull to probably organize an authorized expedition, if it wants to spend the money. Hell, Tom has seemed to show up on every other made-for-TV expedition.
So what do I think is going on.....
Lets just say that for an area with such a small population, there seem to be an unusually large number of personal vendettas and grudges which are constantly percolating. And Tom Farnquist is often at the center of these pissing matches (usually rightfully so!). This has been going on for years. I guess there isn't much else to do in the winter up there.
I was able to dig up the following February 2004 minutes of a Chippewa County Board of Commissioners meeting where Ms. Bridget Nodurft of the Whitefish Point Preservation Society alleges some improprieties between the GLSHS and the Chippewa County Road Commissioner (scroll down to the "public comments" section). True or not, she's definitely all over him!
I'm not defending Farnquist, or his organization. Many folks have legitimate beefs with them. Don't even get me started on all the artifacts they've officially looted off the wrecks I dive up there in the name of "preservation". Only to have them sit in storage rooms collecting dust!......I just don't think his people dove the Fitz.