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NTSB blames captain for HMS Bounty's sinking off N.C. Coast

By WCTI Staff
Published On: Nov 01 2012 06:17:50 PM CDT
Updated On: Feb 10 2014 03:05:50 PM CST
Robin Walbridge
NORTH CAROLINA -

The National Transportation Safety Board is blaming the captain of the HMS Bounty for its sinking off the North Carolina coast during Hurricane Sandy, killing the captain and a crew member.

According to an NTSB report released Monday, the captain's "reckless decision to sail into the well-forecasted path of Hurricane Sandy" was the likely cause for the HMS Bounty to sink about 110 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras on Oct. 29, 2012.

The captain, identified as 63-year-old Robin Walbridge, vanished in the accident and is presumed dead, investigators said, A crew member, 42-year-old Claudene Christian, also died. In addition, three other crew members were seriously injured.

The HMS Bounty, a 108-foot replica 18th-century tall ship, set sail from New London, Conn., for St. Petersburg, Fla., on the evening of Oct. 25, 2012, a day after Sandy reached hurricane strength, according to the NTSB report.

Before setting off from New London, some of the crew members had expressed their concerns to the captain that sailing into Sandy could put them at risk, the NTSB report states. But the captain assured the crew that the Bounty could handle the rough seas.

In an interview with a TV station a month earlier, the captain said that the ship "chased hurricanes," and by getting close to the eye of the storm, sailors could use hurricane winds to their advantage, according to the NTSB.

The report goes on to say that the inexperienced crew struggled for many hours to keep the ship's engines running and bilge pumps operating. Many of the crew members were injured from falls and seasick from the rough waters.

On the morning of Oct. 29, 2012, about 110 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, the Bounty heeled sharply to the starboard side after taking on more than 10 feet of water, according to the report.

"[The voyage] should never have been attempted," the NTSB said.

Coast Guard helicopters were able to rescue 14 of the Bounty's 16 crew members, despite hurricane winds gusting upwards of 100 mph, said investigators.

The body of Christian, still in a protective immersion suit, was found 10 hours later, according tot he NTSB. But Captain Walbridge's body was never recovered.

"Although this wooden ship was modeled after an 18th century vessel, the Captain had access to 21st century hurricane modeling tools that predicted the path and severity of Hurricane Sandy," said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. "The Bounty's crew was put into an extraordinarily hazardous situation through decisions that by any measure didn't prioritize safety."

The NTSB is also blaming HMS Bounty Organization, LLC, which owned and operated the ship. According to the report, the organization did nothing to talk  the captain out of sailing into Sandy.

CLICK HERE to view the entire 16-page NTSB report (PDF file).

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The Coast Guard announced Thursday it was suspending its search for the missing captain of the HMS Bounty, a replica 18th-century tall ship that sank off the North Carolina Coast.

Robin Walbridge, 63, of St. Petersburg, Fla., vanished early Monday morning, when the HMS Bounty got caught in rough waters from Superstorm Sandy and sunk  90 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard said it searched more than 90 hours for Walbridge, covering about 12,000 overlapping square nautical miles in the Atlantic Ocean.

Search and rescue crews were initially hopeful to find Waldbridge alive, because he was wearing a survival suit and the waters were relatively warm, the Coast Guard said. Teams used ships, helicopters and large planes to look for the captain, but there was no sign of him. The search was suspended at around 6:42 p.m. Thursday, said Lt. Michael Patterson, of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Before the HMS Bound sunk, it sent out a distress signal Sunday night, the Coast guard said. At around 4:30 a.m. Monday, Captain Walbridge advised his crew to abandon the 180-foot, three-mast ship.

The Coast Guard was able to rescue 14 crew members from their life boat Monday. They were taken to Elizabeth City, where they were treated for non life-threatening injuries, the Coast Guard said. A 15th crew member, 42-year-old Claudene Christian, was found unresponsivle, and was pronounced dead at a hospital.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Walbridge and Christian families," said Capt. Doug Cameron, the chief of incident response for the Coast Guard 5th District. ”Suspending a search and rescue case is one of the hardest decisions we have to make.”

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 HMS. Rose — the Bounty's sister ship.

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."