“Fitzgerald, this is the Anderson. Have you checked down?”
“Yes, we have.”
“Fitzgerald, we are about 10 miles behind you, and gaining about 1 1/2 miles per hour. Fitzgerald, there is a target 19 miles ahead of us. So the target would be 9 miles on ahead of you.”
“Well,” answered Captain McSorley, “Am I going to clear?”
“Yes, he is going to pass to the west of you.”
“By the way, Fitzgerald, how are you making out with your problems?” asked Clark.
“We are holding our own.”
“Okay, fine, I’ll be talking to you later.” Clark signed off.
The radar signal, or “pip” of the Fitzgerald kept getting obscured by sea return. And around 7:15 pm, the pip was lost again, but this time, did not reappear. Clark called the Fitzgerald again at about 7:22 pm. There was no answer.
Captain Cooper contacted the other ships in the area by radio asking if anyone had seen or heard from the Fitzgerald. The weather had cleared dramatically. His written report states:
“At this time I became very concerned about the Fitzgerald – couldn’t see his lights when we should have. I then called the William Clay Ford to ask him if my phone was putting out a good signal and also if perhaps the Fitzgerald had rounded the point and was in shelter, after a negative report I called the Soo Coast Guard because I was sure something had happened to the Fitzgerald. The Coast Guard were at this time trying to locate a 16-foot boat that was overdue.”
With mounting apprehension, Captain Cooper called the Coast Guard once again, about 8:00 pm, and firmly expressed his concern for the welfare of the Fitzgerald. The Coast Guard then initiated its search for the missing ship. By that time the Anderson had reached the safety of Whitefish Bay to the relief of all aboard. But the Coast Guard called Captain Cooper back at 9:00 pm:
“Anderson, this is Group Soo. What is your present position?”
“We’re down here, about two miles off Parisienne Island right now…the wind is northwest forty to forty-five miles here in the bay.”
“Is it calming down at all, do you think?”
“In the bay it is, but I heard a couple of the salties talking up there, and they wish they hadn’t gone out.”
“Do you think there is any possibility and you could…ah…come about and go back there and do any searching?”
“Ah…God, I don’t know…ah…that…that sea out there is tremendously large. Ah…if you want me to, I can, but I’m not going to be making any time; I’ll be lucky to make two or three miles an hour going back out that way.”
“Well, you’ll have to make a decision as to whether you will be hazarding your vessel or not, but you’re probably one of the only vessels right now that can get to the scene. We’re going to try to contact those saltwater vessels and see if they can’t possibly come about and possibly come back also…things look pretty bad right now; it looks like she may have split apart at the seams like the Morrell did a few years back.”
“Well, that’s what I been thinking. But we were talking to him about seven and he said that everything was going fine. He said that he was going along like an old shoe; no problems at all.”
“Well, again, do you think you could come about and go back and have a look in the area?”
“Well, I’ll go back and take a look, but God, I’m afraid I’m going to take a hell of a beating out there… I’ll turn around and give ‘er a whirl, but God, I don’t know. I’ll give it a try.”
“That would be good.”
“Do you realize what the conditions are out there?”
No reply from the Coast Guard. Captain Cooper tries again.
“Affirmative. From what your reports are I can appreciate the conditions. Again, though, I have to leave that decision up to you as to whether it would be hazarding your vessel or not. If you think you can safely go back up to the area, I would request that you do so. But I have to leave the decision up to you.”
“I’ll give it a try, but that’s all I can do.”