Tall ship's captain still missing; 14 rescued, one dead

Posted October 29, 2012
Updated October 30, 2012

— The U.S. Coast Guard says the captain of a tall ship that sank Monday off the coast of Cape Hatteras is the only person still missing after divers found the other missing crew member Monday afternoon.

Capt. Robin Walbridge, 63, was one of 16 people on the HMS Bounty, which was traveling from Connecticut to Florida when it got caught in rough waters, started taking on water and lost propulsion early Monday.

The crew abandoned ship, and the Coast Guard was able to rescue 14 members – none of whom suffered from life-threatening injuries – Monday morning.

Claudene Christian, 42, was found unresponsive Monday afternoon and taken to Albemarle Hospital in Elizabeth City, where she died Monday night, a hospital public information officer said.

Crews were continuing the search for Walbridge Tuesday, using an airplane and a ship to search some 1,350 nautical miles southeast of Cape Hatters.

The 180-foot, three-mast ship – a replica of a 1700s British transport vessel – is sunk, but the mast is still visible, the Coast Guard said.

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."

Sal Mercogliano, a maritime historian at Campbell University, said Walbridge decided to move the ship, thinking it would be safer out at sea than at port, which was expecting a 10-12-foot tidal surge.

According to a post on the Bounty's Facebook page, Walbridge sent a message Saturday night saying he thought harsh conditions would linger even after the eye of Hurricane Sandy passed.

"We are just going to keep trying to go fast and squeeze by the storm and land as fast as we can," Walbridge wrote to Tracie Simonin, director of the HMS Bounty Organization.

HMS Bounty 15 rescued, 1 missing from HMS Bounty

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

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," he said. "Once you started taking water and lost that power, it was only a matter of time until (the ship) broached."

Coast Guard rescue Coast Guard video of Bounty rescue (long)

Crew members – wearing survival suits that can keep an individual warm and afloat for up to 15 hours – reportedly endured several hours of harsh conditions before abandoning ship Monday morning.

Those were rescued in an hour-long operation around 6:30 a.m. and taken to a Coast Guard air station in Elizabeth City.

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.

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."


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  • WRALwontdeletemyaccount Oct 30, 2012

    You don't go around the storm by sailing directly into it. There's a bid difference between an aircraft carrier and a 150 year old sailing ship design.

  • kidsrn Oct 30, 2012

    Such a shame. Condolences to the families of the Captain and the deceased crew member.

    Sounds like the boat was already out at sea and was trying to make it back in by going around the storm. Whatever the reason, my hat's off to the Coast Guard members who put their own lives on the line to rescue others. God Bless You!!

  • pinball wizard Oct 30, 2012

    I recognize the wisdom of a number of private ship seeking a safe anchorage in the Chesapeake Bay or the Delaware Bay. It cost the owners a lot of money for them to not be working, but safe.

  • btneast Oct 30, 2012

    I do not recognize a valid reason for this ship or any to be in the waters when numerous warnings were sent out

    So you don't recognize the US Navy's wisdom? They put most everything out to sea whenever a hurricane approaches. This boat would have survived had it not been for mechanical malfunction.

  • RALEIGHNATIVE25 Oct 30, 2012

    I do not recognize a valid reason for this ship or any to be in the waters when numerous warnings were sent out. Truly sad that two individuals have lost their lives.

  • btneast Oct 30, 2012

    But I have never heard of a sailing vessel doing that, at least not in modern times.

    He had engines, was not relying on sail.

  • Mollers Oct 30, 2012

    So terribly sad for all of the destruction Sandy has caused. This event however will stand out in my mind as the most devastating. This just breaks my heart.

  • aetius476 Oct 30, 2012

    The Coasties are amazing. I remember them going out in the worst conditions up in the Great lakes to help people out, no hesitation. Thanks for your help!

    So sorry for those lost in this tragedy...

  • watchhillgirl Oct 30, 2012

    Still not understanding why this captain chose to sail into the storm. I remember, growning up in RI, that the lobster men would take the boats out (including my father) into the hurricane and ride it out or go up the Mystic River. But I have never heard of a sailing vessel doing that, at least not in modern times. Very sad for all onboard.

  • Scubagirl Oct 30, 2012

    Such a sad, sad thing. I fear they'll never find the Captain. Condolences to all.