Shipwrecks are tragic things by nature, but the story behind the Nelson, an 1899 wreck discovered Aug. 26 in Lake Superior, is as sad as they come: When the ship foundered in a sudden gale, the captain stayed aboard to lower the lifeboat, then jumped overboard—only to watch as the ship sank and dragged the still-attached lifeboat down with it, carrying his wife and infant child and the ship's crew of seven. The captain was the only survivor and made it to shore on floating wreckage. A side-scan sonar search found the 199-foot, three-masted schooner in around 200 feet of water off Michigan, and searchers say the wreck is "amazingly intact."
The ship "disappeared as suddenly as one could snuff out a candle," said the captain of the steamer that was towing the schooner until the line broke in the storm, MLive.com reports. The Nelson was carrying a load of coal, and a maritime historian believes the ship went down quickly after the load shifted. "It's a terrible story, but it kind of makes you think a little more about the circumstances and the pressures the captain and crew were under to get this cargo to port," says the director of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society. "This is a shipwreck that we've wanted to find for a very long time," says the society's chief of marine operations. There are believed to be hundreds of other wrecks in the same area off the northern Michigan coast. (A famed 1913 shipwreck was unearthed in Lake Superior last year.)