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Ghost on Great Lakes Carrier Daniel Morrell Saves Crewmembers Life

(Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

I sailed the Great Lakes as a kid for two seasons on the PM Line. I was an oiler in the engine room, and on my off hours I would usually assist one of the maintenance men with his duties. We became good friends, it was he who relayed this story to me as it had occurred only a few years earlier.

It started November 1966 as the Daniel J. Morrell took on a load at Taconite Harbor bound for Detroit. Encountering heavy winds and snow she anchored in the Detroit river awaiting more favorable weather. The next day she took on coal, and headed for Lake Huron.

Weather reports heard on the Morrell stated she was heading into stormy seas with potential northerly winds at 65 mph and seas to 25 feet. Plodding on directly into the storm she eventually lost radio contact, finding it nearly impossible to stay on course; facing heavy winds, rolling seas, and snow, the chief engineer lowered engine power to a crawl in order to save the engines.

Hours later the Morrell having taken a brutal beating for hours and at the mercy of the winter gale, was taking on water rapidly. At approximately 2 p.m. she broke in two. Knowing the Morrell would sink in a matter of minutes, life rafts were lowered for those who survived. A total of four men were all that were in the life raft. The Captain and all other crew members were lost at sea.

Caught on a stormy sea and nearly frozen, two of the four crewmembers in the raft died within seven hours on the raft. The two remaining members huddled together, were going in and out of lucidity, and after another eight hours another crew member died, leaving only Dennis Hale. Hale piled his dead crewmembers on top of him for warmth, but still the ravaging storm and frigid temperatures rendered his limbs numb and useless.

Coast Guard helicopters and planes searched the area for hours, finding nothing but life preservers. Hungry and thirsty, Hales had his first encounter with the ghost. Gnawing away at icicles formed on his body and dead crewmembers, Hale noticed an elderly, man with long white hair and penetrating eyes sitting on the side of the liferaft.

The swirling seas and wind did not seem to affect him as he spoke to Hale, cautioning him not to eat the icicles.  Exhausted, Hale slipped into semi consciousness. Later when he awoke he again started eating icicles, and again the old man appeared to him, this time very sternly telling Hale he will die if he eats more icicles, as it will lower his body temperature even more. He also told Hale, help is near and not to give up.

Again Hale lapsed in to semi consciousness, and only awoke when roused by helicopter crewmen who had spotted the raft. Nearly frozen stiff, and near death, he was loaded on the helicopter and brought to the nearest hospital where he miraculously survived. After several weeks of recovery he credited his being alive to that of the white haired ghost, as his body temperature had dropped so low upon his arrival at the hospital, the attending physicians felt there was little if any hope that he would live.

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