Four crew members were missing and eight were rescued yesterday from a life raft on their fifth grueling day at sea after the schooner Pride of Baltimore sank in hurricane-force winds in the Atlantic Ocean 240 miles north of Puerto Rico.
Fierce winds that blew in with almost no warning turned the 90-foot topsail schooner on its side, and the Pride, a floating public relations emissary for the City of Baltimore, was swallowed by the sea in less than a minute.
The freak accident occurred at about 11 a.m. Wednesday, according to Pride officials who talked by radio with the rescued crew members.
The captain and the first mate dove several times under water and cut loose two life rafts, but one raft got caught in the rigging and exploded. The other, apparently damaged, failed to inflate, and eight crew members spent the next six hours inflating it manually, an official said.
Those eight were plucked from the ocean by the crew of a Norwegian tanker about 2 a.m. yesterday.
According to the mother of one survivor, their food rations were almost gone and they had only four cans of water left.
The rescued crew members reported that shortly after the disaster they saw two crew members floating face down and were unable to spot the captain and another crew member, according to a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman.
The Pride, a fast-sailing replica of a historic 19th century Baltimore clipper, was built beginning in 1976 by the City of Baltimore, which owns the ship and used it to promote trade and economic development. The ship had sailed more than 150,000 miles touting Baltimore's charms at ports in Canada, the Caribbean Sea and Europe. The tragedy Wednesday came during the final leg of a 15-month good will tour of Europe that was cut short because of increased tension and terrorism in the Mediterranean Sea. The Pride was due home by mid-June, officials said.
Yesterday, Mayor William Donald Schaefer said the ship represented "a little bit of pride that you had in your city, your state and your nation." Rep. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), who christened her in 1977, said the ship may be gone but her spirit continues.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard launched an intensive search for the four missing crew members, whom it identified as Armin E. Elsaesser III, the 42-year-old captain, from South Dartmouth, Mass.; Vinnie Lazaro, 27, the engineer, from West Redding, Conn.; Barry Duckworth, the carpenter, of Georgetown, Del., whose age had not been determined, and Jeanette (Nina) Schack, a deckhand from Baltimore and one of the crew's youngest members at 23.
Despite reports by the rescued crew members that Duckworth and Schack had been seen floating in the water, Pride and Coast Guard officials refused to give up hope for their survival.
"Considering they the rescued persons had just been thrown in the water and were clinging to a raft, we are searching for four missing people and hope we can find four alive," said Lt. Cmdr. Jim Simpson, a Coast Guard spokesman in Miami.
"A lot depends on whether they were able to get aboard a raft or boat or a large chunk of debris . . . . It has been a long time, but the water is not cold and that helps a little."
Pride officials said they were encouraged by the fact that survivors saw an inflatable dinghy, several life rings and some debris floating free in the chaos after the sinking. The missing crew members have "at least a fighting chance," said Eamonn McGeady, an uncle of crew member Joseph McGeady Jr.
Five long-range search aircraft, deployed by the Coast Guard and Air Force, flew yesterday in rectangular search patterns "kind of like plowing a field" and covered 7,200 square miles in the vicinity where the survivors were picked up, Simpson said.
A Coast Guard cutter headed toward the area, available to move in for closer inspection and to pick up any survivors, he said. The search was stopped at nightfall, and its continuation is "a day-by-day decision," according to Simpson.
The eight survivors, sunburned, hungry and tired, according to another Coast Guard official, were otherwise in good condition and not in need of immediate medical attention. Aboard the tanker Toro, they were heading toward the western coast of Puerto Rico and were scheduled to be flown by helicopter early today to the Coast Guard station at Borinquen, Puerto Rico, when the ship is about 20 miles offshore, Simpson said. They are to be examined by a flight surgeon and flown home to Baltimore.
The first word of the disaster to reach this area came in a predawn telephone call from crew member McGeady to his mother Emily McGeady, who lives in Severna Park, between Baltimore and Annapolis.
She said his first words were: "Get a piece of paper and write this down." He then told her the names of the missing and the survivors and the location of the sinking so she could notify Pride officials. "He was very businesslike, very matter-of-fact, but I was shaking all over," she told a reporter.
Crew member Susan Huesman, 23, of Baltimore was not quite as calm in her call from on board the Toro, according to her mother, who said that Susan told her father, "I'm calling to say I'm all right. I don't want to discuss the accident. I'm just learning how to walk."
The mother said the young woman, a 5-foot-2-inch lifeguard, had been so eager to join the crew of the Pride that she "wrote to the mayor, the congressman, the ship. She crossed the days off her calendar when she learned she was going to go."
Apparently an intense desire to be part of the Pride drove all the crew members to seek the assignment, and the crew was made up of people with widely varying experience. It included Schack, who, according to a friend, had tried to get on the sailing team at Cornell University and was turned down because "they needed someone with more experience." The captain is a former Navy man who had taught at the prestigious oceanography school in Woods Hole, Mass., and held a "master of sail license, one of the top licenses you can get," according to Jim Milinger, dean of the Sea Education Association.
But whatever their experience, they all knew about the risks involved, according to McGeady's father, who is a sailor. "Accidents happen, and you know they happen," said the senior McGeady. "Anyone on a ship knows that it is part of the peril of the sea."
Indeed, the Pride had a brush with disaster in 1979 when it was lost at sea for three days after being blown off course, tossed by huge waves and pounded against a shoal in the Delaware Bay.
After that, officials added a longer range radio and two emergency radio beacons that can send a distress signal when activated. According to Eamonn McGeady, there was no time to use either piece of equipment when the sudden gust of 60 to 80 knots -- the equivalent of at least 72 miles an hour -- struck.
The Pride was sailing from St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands to Norfolk when the accident occurred, according to Chris Hartman of the Pride board of directors. Shortly before the ship sank, the captain saw a squall line and called the crew on deck, presumably to reduce the sails, he said. "It was probably that decision that provided us with eight survivors," he added.
The rescued eight survived for 4 1/2 days on a raft that had rations for six persons for 10 days, as well as fishhooks and flares, he said. Pride and Coast Guard officials estimated that the raft floated between 60 and 150 miles from the sunken ship.
Milinger said when he heard about the disaster yesterday he could not help thinking of one of Capt. Elsaesser's favorite lines from a Joseph Conrad novel: "And I looked upon the true sea -- the sea that plays with men till their hearts are broken, and wears stout ships to death."