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HMS Bounty crew member found at sea dies; captain remains missing

Published On: Oct 29 2012 04:51:23 AM CDT
Updated On: Oct 30 2012 11:32:21 AM CDT
ELIZABETH CITY -

A crew member of the HMS bounty, a tall ship that sank off the North Carolina coast Monday, had died, while the ship's captain remained missing.

Rescue crews found 42-year-old Claudene Christian unresponsive Monday evening, U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class David Weydert said. Christian was later pronounced dead at a hospital. According to Christian's Facebook page, she was living, working and traveling aboard the HMS Bounty. 

The ship's captain, 63-year-old Robin Walbridge, remained missing, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The HMS Bounty was a replica 18th-century tall ship that got caught in rough waters from Hurricane Sandy. The 180-foot, three-mast ship sent out a distress signal Sunday night, the Coast Guard said. The ship then began taking on water at about 90 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras. At around 4:30 a.m. Monday, Captain Walbridge advised his crew to abandon ship.

At about 8 a.m., a helicopter located the sinking ship, its masts partly underwater, and most of the crew, who had gotten into 25-foot rubber life rafts, the Coast Guard said.

Amid winds of 40 mph and 18-foot seas, rescuers were able to save 14 members of the crew from the life boats, Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Brandyn Hill said.

Rescued were: Christopher Barksdale, 56; Jessica Black, 34; Daniel Cleveland, 25; Douglas Faunt, 66; Laura Groves, 28; Jessica Hewitt, 25; John Jones, 29; Adam Prokosh, 27; Drew Salapatek, 29; Matthew Sanders, 37; Joshua Scornavacchi, 25; Anna Sprague, 20; John Svendsen, 41; Mark Warner, 33.

Randy Haba, a rescue swimmer for the U.S. Coast Guard, helped pluck several crew members off a 25-foot rubber life raft. He was also lowered to a crew member floating in the water alone. Haba wrapped a strap around his body and raised him to the chopper.

"It's one of the biggest seas I've ever been in. It was huge out there," Haba said.

The survivors were taken to Elizabeth City with non life-threatening injuries, the Coast Guard said.

The mother of one of the crew members said she had talked to her daughter after the rescue. Mary Ellen Sprague said her 20-year-old daughter, Anna Sprague, had been aboard the HMS Bounty since May. The ship had traveled to London, then to St. Petersburg, Fla., and was going to spend the winter in Galveston, Texas.

"She was probably the youngest member of the crew," Mary Ellen Sprague said.

Sprague said she hadn't learned many details yet because her daughter, normally talkative and outgoing, was being uncharacteristically quiet. She was very upset because the ship's captain was still missing, Sprague said from her home in Savannah, Ga.

The HMS Bounty was going from Connecticut to St. Petersburg, Fla. when it sank.

The ship departed Connecticut on Thursday, when Sandy was over Cuba, and its path and effect on the East Coast was still somewhat certain. Sandy was then forecast to be several hundred miles off the Carolinas coast.

Days before it sank, the vessel had rerouted to avoid the brunt of Sandy. However, a statement on its website acknowledged, "this will be a tough voyage for Bounty," the Tampa Bay Times reported.

"[The crew members] were staying in constant contact with the National Hurricane Center," said Tracie Simonin, the director of the HMS Bounty Organization. "They were trying to make it around the storm."

The ship was built for the 1962 film "Mutiny on the Bounty," which starred Marlon Brando, and has been featured in other movies. It was also featured in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."

The HMS Bounty has docked off and on over the years at The Pier in St. Petersburg, Fla., and was scheduled to eventually arrive there in November, said Carol Everson, general manager of The Pier.

"I know they were very much looking forward to being here," she said. "They were very excited about coming down."

The Bounty's captain, Robin Walbridge, was from St. Petersburg, she said.

She and other employees of The Pier were closely following the story.

"It's devastating," she said. "Obviously you want all of the crew to be safe. It's a shame that the vessel has gone down because it's a tremendous piece of history and a great piece of history for St. Petersburg."

Wallbridge learned to sail at age 10, according to his biography on the Bounty's website. Prior to the Bounty, he served as first mate on the H.M.S. Rose — the Bounty's sister ship.

The ship was permanently docked in St. Petersburg for many decades. In 1986, it was bought by Ted Turner, and in 2001, it was purchased by its current owner, New York businessman named Robert Hansen.

About 10 years ago, the ship underwent a multi-million dollar restoration.

In recent years, the ship has wintered in Puerto Rico and travels in the spring and summer. In August, large crowds greeted the ship when it sailed into St. Augustine, Fla., Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C.

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See below this image from the HMS Bounty page on Facebook that shows the ship's location in relation to the storm: