100-yr-old shipwreck found

The wreckage of a steamer that sank in Lake Erie over a century ago and eluded shipwreck hunters for decades has finally been found off the Ohio shore, according to the National Museum of the Great Lakes.

The steam barge, called the Margaret Olwill, was loaded with limestone and bound for Cleveland when it went down in a storm in 1899, killing eight people including the captain, his wife and their nine-year-old son.

Shipwreck hunter Rob Ruetschle, who first looked for the barge nearly 30 years ago, discovered its remains last summer. He and others later confirmed the identity of the wreckage, the museum said.

Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes and littered with shipwrecks from an era when people and cargo often travelled by water. But its violent storms that can whip up in a hurry have taken down hundreds of schooners, freighters and steamships over the years.

How many wreckage sites are below the surface is not known — estimates vary from several hundred to several thousand.

A small group of shipwreck hunters known as the Cleveland Underwater Explorers researches the locations of many suspected wrecks and typically finds a few every year.

"We keep knocking those off and the list is getting shorter," said David VanZandt, the group's director. "Sometimes we stumble across ones when we're looking for others."

The Olwill steam barge has been one of its targets for a long time.

Ruetschle, who now lives in Santa Monica, California, but returns to Ohio in the summers to search for shipwrecks, decided a few years ago to take another run at finding the steamship.

He poured over old wreck reports, newspaper accounts and court records looking for clues. His search in 2016 came up empty, so he moved on to another area last summer.

That was when he came across the Olwill near Lorain, about 50 kilometres west of Cleveland.

"It's sort of like climbing Mount Everest for the first time," Ruetschle said about how he felt. "Once you find it, it's just fantastic."

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