Lake Huron shipwreck found after being lost for 100 years

A determined shipwreck hunter used grit and sonar over 30 years to track down the area's last missing ship, which went down in a 1913 blizzard. But why didn't new technologies help his team? 

Eric Seals/Detroit Free Press via AP
In a Saturday, July 11, 2015 photo, From the left; Jared Daniel, Keith Colombo, David Trotter, Greg Grieser, Marty Lutz and Fred Nichols pose for a photo on David Trotter's dive boat, the Obsession Two, on Lake Huron. Trotter, of Canton, Mich., says he and his crew believe they've found the wreck of the Hydrus, a ship that went down in Lake Huron during a major 1913 storm. Trotter tells the Detroit Free Press the Hydrus was found in July roughly 32 miles from land. after what was a 30 year effort for Trotter.

A ship lost during a fierce Lake Huron blizzard 102 years ago has been found.

The whereabouts of the Hydrus – a hulking vessel more than 400 feet long –  remained a mystery until a team of shipwreck hunters tracked it down in July. The discovery was made public this week. 

The famous 1913 blizzard called the “White Hurricane” descended on the region with fury, causing a perilous journey for the Hydrus as it left a Michigan port and navigated toward the St. Clair River. A crew of 22 people was lost, five of whom were found frozen to death in a lifeboat that washed up on a Canadian shore, The Detroit Free Press reported.

Over the same three-day period at least 12 ships went down and 250 people perished. The Hydrus was believed to be the only vessel still missing in the US-controlled waters of Lake Huron, until now.

David Trotter, an intrepid shipwreck hunter, has spent three decades on a quest to find the Hydrus. He notched a trove of discoveries along the way, including airplanes and dozens of ships. Among them, the John A. McGean, which sunk in the same storm as the Hydrus.

But it was no easy feat. Lake Huron has the longest shoreline of the five Great Lakes and has a surface area of 23,000 square miles. And despite expensive new tech that may have made their search easier, the team stuck to relatively old techniques.

The hodgepodge group created a grid to comb the waters of Lake Huron, scanning the depths with sonar and recording what it found along the way. When a relevant image was discovered dive teams were dispatched.

Since 1980, Trotter said he has examined 2,500 square miles, nearly a third of the lake. 

Search technology has advanced over the years and has been an integral part of the hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which went missing last year over the Indian Ocean. But it has its limitations.

Using a combination of boats and planes, new radar technologies, and sonar and satellite imagery, international teams scoured massive strips of the ocean and came up mostly empty-handed.

Greg Charvat, a visiting research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and radar expert, explained in a CBS News interview, that radar signals and satellite imagery can both be ineffective in bad weather. Sonar can be rendered useless when a search area is too large, even though there are examples of successes.

“The satellite is basically like a camera in space, the satellite imagery not real-time generally speaking, but the radar imagery is," Charvat said. "From the aircraft when they're scanning, flying and scanning – that's real-time imagery they're looking at."

Marine archaeologists exploring the expansive depths of our oceans for lost antiquities are also utilizing collections of new technologies like robotic vehicles, 3D maps, drones and diving suits, according to Scientific American.

But for Trotter’s and his team, it was more diligence and a little luck. He told the Detroit Free Press that as the group passed over the Hydrus last summer, its image appeared on a sonar screen to the crew’s cheers.

“That’s a big freighter,” Trotter said. “That could be the Hydrus.” 

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