On November 29th, 1966, the Great Lakes ore freighter Daniel J. Morrell was northbound in Lake Huron, fighting gale-force winds and tremendous waves. Suddenly, with no warning, the Morrell began to break in half. Within minutes, the Morrell’s crewmen were cast to the mercy of the stormy and frigid lake.

No distress signal had been sent, and it would be more than a day before the Morrell was reported overdue. Of her crew of twenty-nine, only one man, Dennis Hale, survived.  In this book, for the first time, Hale tells the whole story of his survival in the face of incredible odds, as well as the events leading up to and following his ordeal. This book is a must, not only for those interested in Great Lakes maritime history, but for its story of the triumph of the human spirit in times of adversity.

Sole Survivor

In the early morning hours of November 29, 1966, during a sixty-five MPH gale on Lake Huron, the 603-foot vintage Morrell broke in half and sank with the loss of twenty-eight lives. My name is Dennis Hale and I was the only survivor of that disaster.

At 2:00 am I was awakened by a loud “bang.” I thought it was just the anchor hitting the bow, so I rolled over. But I heard it again. I got out of bed and scrambled to the deck. I was wearing undershorts, a life vest, and a peacoat. As ice and snow slushed under my feet, I walked to the life raft on the main deck. About thirteen crewmembers were on or around the raft.

As we sat on the raft waiting for the ship to sink and allow us to float free, the main deck started to tear from the starboard side to the port side. I can still see the sparks from the tearing metal. After the bow and stern separated, the stern section moved abreast of the bow and we could see into the cargo hold, since the stern section lights were still on. At this point I was afraid of being swept overboard, so I closed my eyes and just held on. The next thing I knew, I was in the water. When I came to the surface, I saw the raft and swam over to it. By the time I got there, two other men had climbed aboard, and we then helped a fourth man on.

The seas were estimated at between 30 and 35 feet; wind was 60 to 65 MPH; water temperature was 44 degrees; and the air temperature was 33 degrees. By dawn of the 29th, two men on the raft had died and by 4pm, the third man died. It was 24 hours later before the U.S. Coast Guard found me.

I was in much better condition than expected when found. I think the reason I survived was a lifetime of prayers in the 38 hours on the raft, having my life jacket next to my skin and the peacoat over it, and not having any clothing on my lower body to further lower my temperature. My injuries were minor and frostbite was minimal, mostly to my bare feet. My life had been spared!

Dennis Hale 
Ashtabula, Ohio 

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