Newly Discovered Shipwreck Likely the Long-Lost Henry B. Smith

Posted at: 06/09/2013 8:50 PM | Updated at: 06/09/2013 10:52 PM

One of Lake Superior's deepest mysteries may have been revealed by a team of shipwreck hunters from the region.

A ship believed to be the Henry B. Smith was discovered by a team of divers on May 24. It was at a depth of 535 feet—about the same depth as the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The Smith went missing with all hands 100 years ago. The team is not disclosing the exact location, but experienced shipwreck hunter Jerry Eliason of Cloquet said that based on photo and video evidence, there's no doubt in his mind that it's the Smith. If they can find the name on the ship they will confirm the identity. He said it's possible it could be worn off by now, though.

Eliason's team consists of his wife, Karen, and friends Kraig Smith of Rice Lake, Wis., and Kenneth Merryman of Fridley, Minn. Eliason and Smith have been hunting wrecks for 33 years together, and they teamed up with Merryman 22 years ago. Eliason's son, Jarrod, designed the sonar equipment they used to find the ship.

Eliason said it should have taken 200 days of searching 1,000 square miles to find a wreck like this.

"If someone would have said 'I'll give you a million dollars if you go and find the Henry B. Smith, but if you don't find it you get nothing,' I wouldn't have even tried looking for it," Eliason said, "because I figured it would cost a lot more than a million dollars to find that wreck."

The team won't reveal the exact method they used. But since last winter, Jerry and Karen Eliason have been processing data gathered through Freedom of Information Act requests. The data led them to pinpoint a location in January. Once they reached the location and got the sonar in the water, it took about 20 minutes to locate the ship.

Eliason was the first to see the video footage as his partners filmed it.

"They knew I was seeing something extra special," he said. "And realizing that I was the first person to get to see that in 100 years, and as perfect as it was, just amazing, makes me want to do it again and again."

Eliason said he started diving when he was 12. This is the 12th previously undiscovered shipwreck that he and Smith have recovered. Merryman was also on the team for nine of those. Eliason said it's a hobby, not a career.

"Some people hunt deer," he said. "We hunt ships."

It isn't always this successful. Eliason said he once went through a 13-year dry spell. Now, he's in the midst of his most exciting discovery yet. He and his team plan to head back out the wreck this summer.

(Shipwreck video courtesy of Jerry Eliason)

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