Ship sunk by nor’easter 120 years ago discovered in Lake Erie

The Margaret Olwill ship was lost during a storm in Lake Erie in June 1899. Photo by Historical Collection of the Great Lakes/Bowling State University via CLUE

March 19 (UPI) — A diver in Lake Erie discovered the remains of a ship that sank during a nor’easter in 1899, the National Museum of the Great Lakes announced on Thursday.

Rob Ruetschle, a California-based diver who regularly dives in Lake Erie and was sponsored by the Museum of the Great Lakes, made the discovery of the Margaret Olwill, a steambarge that sank with several people on board, off the coast of Lorain, Ohio, Rock the Lake reported.

Eight people were killed at the time, including the captain, his wife and their 9-year-old son.

“The loss of the Olwill was particularly tragic because not only did the captain and his wife perish, but their son, a friend of the family, and other relatives also died as a result of what appeared to be a family trip on the commercial vessel,” the museum said in a statement.

For Ruetschle, finding the ship marked the end of a quest that began nearly 30 years ago.

The longtime diver first thought he had discovered the shipwreck back in 1989, the Cleveland Underwater Explorers, which goes by the acronym CLUE, said in a statement. But he wasn’t able to return to that site until 2016 and, using sonar technology, found that what he thought was a shipwreck was actually just a pile of rocks and a sunken tree. But Ruetschle continued his search.

“During December of 2016 Rob reexamined the old search area scans and all archival documents accumulated prior to the first search,” CLUE said. “After careful review he decided to take one more shot at finding this elusive wreck. He moved the search area and covered a new 25 square mile area before finding the wreck in the early evening of July 26, 2017. In all about 60 square miles of Lake Erie was searched to find this ship.”

Ruetschle and a team of divers returned to the site for diagnostic tests to confirm that the shipwreck was the Margaret Olwill before the announcement was made official last week.

“So after 29 long years of searching by Rob and 11 years by CLUE we are confident enough in the evidence to announce the discovery of the shipwreck identified as the Propeller Margaret Olwill,” the group said.

“When you first find the wreck that you’re looking for, it’s exciting,” Ruetschle told Rock the Lake. “It’s like climbing Mount Everest for the first time.”


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