UPDATE: Body of ‘Bounty’ Crew Member Found, Captain Still Missing
CAPE HATTERAS, N.C. (CNN) — The body of missing crew member Claudene Christian, 42, was found hours after 14 of her HMS Bounty shipmates were plucked from lifeboats riding 18-foot waves. The ship’s captain, Robin Walbridge, 63, remains missing.
The HMS Bounty, a 180-foot, three-masted ship used in Hollywood movies, began taking on water Monday off the coast of North Carolina due to Hurricane Sandy. When the crew members realized their lives were in danger in the dark morning hours, they were forced to find safety in two life rafts. But of the 16 people on board, only 13 initially made it. Three crew members washed overboard, and only one of those three climbed into a lifeboat, Coast Guard Vice Adm. Robert Parker told CNN.
The two people who fell off the sinking Bounty into the frenzied waters faced “extraordinary conditions” awaiting rescue, Parker said.
All of the HMS Bounty’s missing crew members were wearing survival suits designed to keep them afloat and warm, “but in these conditions, it’s very problematic,” Parker said, adding a timely deployment of search-and-rescue aircraft and ships gives the missing a chance.
A C-130 aircraft and a helicopter have been monitoring the area around the shipwreck of the Bounty, a tall ship that appeared in some classic adventure films. Two Coast Guard cutters were en route to the scene to help with the search-and-rescue effort, with one expected to arrive later Monday and the other expected Tuesday, Parker said.
The survival drama involving the crippled tall ship and its stranded crew has been playing out over the course of Monday, 90 miles off North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where Hurricane Sandy has been churning 40-mph winds and 18-foot waves.
Coast Guard helicopters plucked 14 people out of two lifeboats around 6:30 a.m., Petty Officer Brandyn Hill said. The boats were designed to hold 25 people, and have canopies for shelter against pelting rain and winds.
All 14 rescued people arrived at the Coast Guard air station in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, later Monday morning. All of them are “in good health,” Parker said.
Initial reports said 17 crew members were aboard the HMS Bounty, but the Coast Guard later corrected that number.
The Coast Guard said it has “diminished search-and-rescue capabilities” as Category 1 Hurricane Sandy batters the U.S. East Coast. More sea rescues prompted by Sandy were reported in Delaware Bay.
The Coast Guard received an emergency call from the ship’s owner Sunday after the 80-foot, three-masted vessel lost power and started taking on water, the Coast Guard said. Rescuers picked up an emergency locator beacon from the vessel, and an HC-130 aircraft was dispatched to the area, where the plane made contact with the crew.
The Bounty was used in the making of 1962’s “Mutiny on the Bounty,” starring Marlon Brando, as well as “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” according to the ship’s Facebook page.
Hurricane Sandy is evoking memories of the nor’easter that struck off New England in 1991 and inspired the best-selling book and movie “The Perfect Storm.”
Ray Leonard, who survived that storm on his sailboat before the Coast Guard rescued him, said being besieged by high winds and waves can be exhausting, but sometimes sailors just have to deal with that physical discomfort.
“You don’t really have time to think about much outside, because there’s always about six jobs that need doing,” Leonard said Monday.
Leonard said he never felt terribly vulnerable in ’91. However, he said, Hurricane Sandy’s immensity poses more of a quandary for sailors.
“The one I was in was different, because you could do something. In Sandy, you can’t do much,” Leonard said.
CNN’s Thom Patterson, Meridith Edwards and Mike Ahlers contributed to this report.