The Coast Guard continued its search Thursday for the captain of the HMS Bounty, which sank Monday off North Carolina in heavy seas from Hurricane Sandy.
Capt. Robin Walbridge, 63, was wearing a survival suit when he was swept off the tall ship Monday in 18-foot seas and 40-mph winds 90 miles southeast of Hatteras, N.C.
The water temperature Wednesday morning in the search area — now shifted to 145 miles off North Carolina — was 77 degrees.
“As of now, our intent is to continue searching for the missing person," says Capt. Doug Cameron, the chief of incident response for the Coast Guard’s Fifth District. "This is still an active search, not a recovery effort. Factors such as fitness of the member, weather conditions, survival equipment and the results from previous searches are taken into consideration to determine how long the Coast Guard will search."
Click play for a report on the sinking of the HMS Bounty.
Click play for footage of the Coast Guard rescue.
The crew of an HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft from Coast Guard Air Station Miami searched for four hours Wednesday morning. A Hercules aircrew from Air Station Clearwater, Fla., began a search at about 7:30 a.m. And a Hercules aircrew from Air Station Elizabeth City planned to start searching later in the day.
A Coast Guard helicopter rescued 14 of the Bounty’s 16 crewmembers about 6:30 a.m. Monday. The crewmembers were hoisted from two 25-person life rafts. All were wearing cold-water survival suits.
The body of crewmember Claudene Christian, 42, a great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Fletcher Christian, who led the mutiny on the Bounty against her commander, Lt. William Bligh, in April 1789, was recovered from the water later Monday. Christian also was wearing a cold-weather survival suit.
The Bounty — a 180-foot (sparred length) three-masted square rigger built in 1962 for the film “Mutiny on the Bounty,” starring Marlon Brando — left New London, Conn., last Thursday and was headed for is winter home in St. Petersburg, Fla. On the ship’s Facebook page, the captain said he planned to sail east and then south to avoid the massive storm, which at one point ranged over 940 miles with tropical storm-force winds or higher and 1,560 miles with seas of 12 feet or greater.
Bounty had been at the Boothbay Harbor Shipyard in Maine for repairs and maintenance. It left the yard Oct. 21 for the voyage to Florida. Postings on the Facebook page said it would be a “tough voyage,” adding that a “ship is safer at sea than in port.”
The Tall Ships America organization praised the Coast Guard for its efforts and also cautioned against too much speculation before all facts are in. Understandably, however, questions have been raised about why the ship went to sea, putting the lives of the crew and rescuers at risk.
“There is currently much speculation about the loss of the vessel,” the non-profit organization said in a statement. “We believe that further speculation is not helpful at this time, especially in view of the respect that is due to the individuals whose lives are directly affected by these tragic events. Tall Ships America does not have any factual information to add but notes that there will surely be an official inquiry that will assemble much more complete information than is available to anyone now. We are confident that our membership, if called upon, will cooperate with that inquiry in the full spirit of professionalism upon which the sail training movement depends.”
The Facebook page reported that the Bounty lost its generators Sunday night. The ship was taking on water, and without a generator to run the pumps it took on too much water and sank, according to the Facebook messages.
— Jim Flannery