Ninety minutes later, the Bounty finally lost its battle with 40 mph winds and 18-foot seas. Its captain ordered all hands to abandon the sinking ship, a shocking demise for a celebrity vessel built for the 1962 film “Mutiny on the Bounty.”
The ship, which had been trying to make its way around Hurricane Sandy, carried a crew of 16. When the rescue operation ended about 10 a.m. Monday, 14 of the crew members had been saved by Coast Guard helicopters. Two people, Capt. Robin Walbridge, 63, and Claudene Christian, 42, were missing.
Christian’s body was recovered Monday night, but Walbridge remained unaccounted for.
The HMS Bounty, owned by New York businessman Robert Hansen, began its journey Thursday, departing from New London, Conn., for St. Petersburg, Fla., where the ship has docked for years. In addition to its star turns in the 2006 “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequel and other Hollywood movies, the ship was used to teach the “nearly lost arts of square rigged sailing and seamanship,” its Web site said. It also offered sailing, teamwork and leadership classes for the general public.
On Saturday, Walbridge reported that he expected to face the hurricane’s brunt that night, according to the ship’s Facebook page. The HMS Bounty Organization, which ran the ship, knew its tall-ship devotees might be skeptical of the vessel’s path, so it tried to reassure its 8,000 Facebook followers.
“Rest assured that the Bounty is safe and in very capable hands,” the Facebook page’s administrator wrote. “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!”
But Sunday night, the hurricane was proving too much for the Bounty. The ship sent out a distress signal at 9 p.m., according to the Coast Guard. Two hours later, the HMS organization called the Coast Guard, confirming that it had lost radio contact with the vessel.
A Coast Guard C-130 aircraft arrived at the scene an hour later to make direct contact with the Bounty and survey the scene, about 90 miles off Cape Hatteras.
When the captain ordered everyone off the ship about 4:30 a.m., three people struggled to climb into the two lifeboats and were smacked by a wave, the Coast Guard said. One man fell into the water, but others pulled him into one of the boats. Walbridge and Christian were thrown into the water and disappeared.
While the HMS Bounty and its crew foundered in the dark, Steve Bonn was woken from a sound sleep in Camden, N.C., about 4:15 a.m. by his ringing cellphone. The 44-year-old Coast Guard helicopter pilot was needed for a mission: A big boat was sinking.