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Book Photo, Video of Crewman’s Remains Angers Victims’ Families

November 4, 1995 GMT

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) _ A marine explorer’s decision to use pictures of the underwater remains of a crewman killed in the Edmund Fitzgerald shipwreck in a 20th anniversary book and video has victims’ families fuming.

``Personally, I feel the man is morally bankrupt,″ said Beth Blasucci of Pacific Palisades, Calif., whose father, John McCarthy, was the ship’s first mate. ``He must know the emotional turmoil he has put people through.″

Fred Shannon acknowledges that using the pictures in a book and video to be released next week, two decades after the 729-foot ore carrier sank in a Lake Superior gale, will upset some people.

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But he said he concluded that the picture offers clues as to how and why the ship sank, and is essential to telling the story.

Twenty-nine crewman perished in the disaster on Nov. 10, 1975.

``I didn’t put any human remains down there and I didn’t sink the Edmund Fitzgerald,″ Shannon said. ``I’m simply reporting the facts.″

He stressed that two photographs in the 256-page book and one minute of footage in a 50-minute videotape only show a small portion of one partly decomposed body. The face is not visible, so identification is impossible, he said.

``We computer-enhanced or varied the images to show what we want people to see, yet protected the identity of the human remains,″ Shannon said.

James Cairns, deputy chief coroner for the Canadian province of Ontario, said he saw the videotape while investigating Shannon’s discovery last year. The shipwreck is generally believed to be in Canadian waters, about 17 miles northwest of Whitefish Point, Mich.

Even if the face were shown, Cairns said, ``there is no way you could identify this individual″ without retrieving the body and performing scientific tests.

Jack Champeau, whose brother, Oliver ``Buck″ Champeau died in the shipwreck, said he did not object to Shannon’s use of the pictures as long as the body cannot be identified.

``The remains should be treated reverently and with respect, but the fact is the men have died; they’re no longer there,″ said Champeau, of Marinette, Wis.

Whether the body is recognizable or not makes no difference to Cheryl Rozman of Gwinn, whose father, Ransom ``Ray″ Cundy, was a watchman aboard the Fitzgerald.

``I can’t believe he’s doing this to us,″ she said. ``That is my dad’s grave and it should be respected.″

Rozman has led a group seeking to have the shipwreck declared off-limits to future dives.

``You don’t go digging up graves on land here, looking at bodies, taking pictures. There’s laws against that and there should be laws protecting an underwater grave site,″ she said.

Shannon led a three-day, manned submarine expedition to the shipwreck in July 1994. There had been four prior visits to the ship using either miniature submarines or underwater robotic cameras.

But his team was the first to spot a body outside the ship on the lake bottom. Until then, all the missing crewmen were believed to have been entombed inside the wreckage.

Shannon says the body’s torso is partly covered with what appears to be a life jacket. That, he says, bolsters his theory that the ship broke apart and sank gradually, giving the crewmen time to don jackets and attempt to escape.

A more common theory is that the ship, which had taken on water as it was battered by 30-foot waves, nose-dived into a huge wave and slammed into the lake bottom, where it broke in two.