By Mark Morgenstein, CNN
(CNN) – Three people washed off their crippled ship and engulfed by Atlantic waters roiled by Hurricane Sandy scrambled for help on Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard said, but only one of them made it to safety.
When the HMS Bounty’s crew members realized their lives were in danger off the North Carolina coast in the dark morning hours, they made a short journey they hoped they’d never have to take — to two waiting life rafts.
But only 13 of the 16 people aboard got off the ship safely, initially, and only one of the three washed overboard made it into a raft, Coast Guard Vice Adm. Robert Parker told CNN. That left rescuers scrambling to find them in the frenzied ocean, Parker said.
One of them — the Bounty’s longtime captain, Robin Walbridge — remained missing as night approached Monday, said Lt. Mike Patterson, a Coast Guard spokesman. The body of the second, deckhand Claudene Christian, was found Monday evening, the Coast Guard announced.
The 180-foot, three-masted ship, a replica of the famous British vessel, foundered about 90 miles off North Carolina as Sandy’s fury churned the Atlantic into 18-foot seas, its owner, Bob Hansen, told CNN affilliate KUSA.
Hansen said Walbridge was attempting to head east, away from the hurricane, when the ship began taking on water.
“At that time it wasn’t considered an emergency, even though they had several feet of water inside the boat,” Hansen said. “She’s a very large ship, and that little bit of water really does not do anything to her. But somehow we lost power in our generator and in our main engines, and as a result, we could not pump any water out of the boat.”
As the waves continued to batter the ship, “it just got to the point where she couldn’t stay afloat anymore.”
CNN meteorologists say the water temperature varies greatly in that part of the ocean because of the gulf stream. So the water could be anywhere from 50 to 64 degrees Fahrenheit.
All of the crew members were wearing orange survival suits with strobe lights designed to keep them afloat, warm and easy to find.
“But in these conditions, it’s very problematic,” Parker said, adding that 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. Two Coast Guard cutters were en route to the scene to help with search-and-rescue, with one expected to arrive later on Monday and the other expected on Tuesday, Parker said.
Coast Guard helicopters plucked 14 people out of two lifeboats around 6:30 a.m., Petty Officer Brandyn Hill said.
“The first guy we pulled up, he was really happy to see us. That’s for sure,” said Aviation Survival Technician 2 Randy Haba, a Coast Guard rescue swimmer. “We got him up there, and he was all excited and saying, ‘That’s a good job,’ and everything was great. He was just a little cold, but he was good to go.”
The life boats were designed to hold 25 people and had canopies for shelter against pelting rain and winds.
All of those rescued arrived at the Coast Guard air station in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and were in good health, Parker said. Initial reports said 17 crew members were aboard, 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 ship was built for the 1962 film version of “Mutiny on the Bounty,” starring Marlon Brando, and appeared in the 2006 blockbuster “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.” It was once owned by America’s Cup winner and CNN founder Ted Turner, who acquired it in 1986 along with the rights to the MGM film library.
“Among the many troubling reports on the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy, I am deeply saddened to hear that the HMS Bounty was overtaken by the storm,” Turner said in a statement Monday night. “As a sailor and former owner of the Bounty, my heart goes out to the families of the missing crew members, and I am truly hopeful for their safe recovery.”
The ship departed New London, Connecticut, for St. Petersburg, Florida, on October 25, according to the ship’s Facebook page. Facebook postings bearing that date say things such as “I’m sure that Hurricane Sandy will be a major consideration when Bounty leaves for St. Petersburg later today,” and “Bounty will be sailing East out to sea before heading South to avoid the brunt of Hurricane Sandy.”
The ship was scheduled to arrive at the Pier in St. Petersburg as early as November 7 for a public display on November 10 and 11, the Pier’s general manager, Carol Everson, said Monday. The St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention and Vistors Bureau is promoting “The HMS Bounty Returns To The Pier” on its website.
Everson said it’s hard to believe the Bounty, which has docked in St. Petersburg for long stretches since the 1970s, is buried under the ocean.
“It had such a history, not only because of ‘Mutiny on the Bounty,’ but it’s been a great part of St. Petersburg for so many years. It’s going to be missed,” Everson said. “It had a majestic look with its tall masts. It had an aura about it.”
While following the ship’s Facebook timeline, you can read a mixture of trepidation and attempts at soothing fears.
On Saturday, this post appeared: “Bounty’s current voyage is a calculated decision… NOT AT ALL… irresponsible or with a lack of foresight as some have suggested. The fact of the matter is… A SHIP IS SAFER AT SEA THAN IN PORT!”
No one responded to the contact e-mail or phone number listed on the ship’s website and Facebook account.
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 Belle Reynoso, Thom Patterson, Meridith Edwards, Mike Ahlers, Sean Morris and George Howell contributed to this report.