14 rescued, 2 missing from tall ship off NC

Posted October 29, 2012

— The U.S. Coast Guard on Monday rescued 14 crew members and were looking for two others from the abandoned HMS Bounty, a famous replica tall ship that began sinking off the coast of Cape Hatteras in rough waters churned up by Hurricane Sandy.

All crew members were aboard the 180-foot, three-mast ship when it started taking on water and lost propulsion early Monday as it struggled to skirt around the Category 1 storm.

After enduring several hours, the crew put on survival suits and climbed aboard two 25-foot life boats.

Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Brandyn Hill said the crew members were rescued by two Coast Guard helicopters around 6:30 a.m. and taken to Elizabeth City. He did not have any information on their conditions.

The drama unfolded late Sunday, when the Coast Guard 5th District command center in Portsmouth, Va., reported that it received a call from the owner of the Bounty, saying she had lost communication with the crew.

The Coast Guard later received a radio signal from the vessel, indicating its position and that it was in distress.

HMS Bounty rescue Coast Guard video of Bounty rescue (short)

Coast Guard Vice Adm. Robert Parker, Operational Commander for the Atlantic Area, told ABC's "Good Morning America" that at the time of the distress call the ship was taking on 2 feet of water an hour.

He said the crew abandoned ship into canopied, rubber life rafts with about 10 feet of water on board.

An air crew from the Coast Guard station in Elizabeth City launched an HC-130 Hercules aircraft to the scene and established communication with Bounty’s crew, the guard said. But rough weather – 30-foot swells and 50 mph winds – hampered

"You can imagine how difficult it would be to conduct a rescue," Coast Guard Lt. Michael Patterson said. "But that's what we're trying to accomplish here."

The guard dispatched two MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters to hoist the crew to safety. The first chopper arrived about 6:30 a.m. and hoisted five people into the aircraft, while the second rescued the other nine.

"They did not panic at all," said Daniel Todd, a rescue swimmer on the second helicopter. "I told them what I needed from them in order for them to be safe and for it to run as quickly and smoothly as possible."

The Hercules stayed at the scene to search for the missing crew, and a third helicopter later joined in.

The Bounty replica was built in 1962 for the movie "Mutiny on the Bounty" and has since been used in numerous films and documentaries, including "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."

The director of the HMS Bounty Organization, Tracie Simonin, said the tall ship had left Connecticut last week en route for St. Petersburg, Fla.

"They were staying in constant contact with the National Hurricane Center," she said. "They were trying to make it around the storm."

Sal Mercogliano, a maritime historian at Campbell University, said that the Bounty's captain, Robin Walbridge, had decided that the ship would be safer out at sea than at the port, because of the impending 10-12 feet tidal surge.

Based on what he knew about the situation, Mercogliano said several factors contributed the ship sinking.

"What appears to have happened is that water probably inundated the vessel, flooded out the generators and with the loss of power and only 16 or 17 crew members on board, they were unable to pump out the vessel, unable to manage their sails," Mercogliano said. "Once you started taking water and lost that power, it was only a matter of time until (the ship) broached."


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  • pappybigtuna1 Oct 30, 2012

    I am reading a lot of excusses for a captain's poor judgement that resulted in the loss of life, which may include his own.

    I worked these waters for over 30 years, in some of the best built crafts available, full compliment of electronics, communications, life saving gear. The main factor is the lack of respect for the sea and what it can do.

    This ship was not designed to sail this kind of water. They had an a small power plant that was useless in bad water. The ship was at the bottom of a swell that turned it on its side, and then many things happened quickly

  • Scubagirl Oct 30, 2012

    Time to update the headline

  • Scubagirl Oct 29, 2012

    Now to the Captain! Not looking good though since they plan to call off the search very soon. Good job to the Coast Guard!!! AWESOME job actually.

  • Scubagirl Oct 29, 2012

    So sad, hoping they can find the captain and other crew member, but sure not looking good, especially now it's getting dark. Suits good for about 15 hours in the water-that time is drawing to a close as well. Thoughts are with them all.
    And to those saying 70 is warm......only on land. In the water not so much. I dove once in 75 degree water WITH a wetsuit and I was FREEZING after less than an hour. Still going to be hopeful though.

  • Sherlock Oct 29, 2012

    Great job by the USCG.

  • more cowbell Oct 29, 2012

    According to the CG, the water temp is around 70 degrees, so there's a good chance the 2 missing crew are alive.

    Unless they are gumby suits, their chances of survival are slim. 70 degrees F sounds warm but it's not when you're in the water. The only advantage of cold water drowning/exposure is hemoglobin has a higher affinity for O2 than in a warmer condition.

  • Triumph Oct 29, 2012

    I assume the US Navy will NOT be taking the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) out into the Atlantic to escape this hurricane.

  • Triumph Oct 29, 2012

    The captain should have brought the ship into one of NC's sounds, like the Pamlico River, as BlackBerd woudl have done. Gone straight to Bath and waited out the storm there.

  • cupofcoffee Oct 29, 2012

    Thank you to the US Coast Guard. Well done!

  • edgar709 Oct 29, 2012

    Wow! impressive work. Hats off to the men and women of the US Coast Guard!