Eight crew members of the sunken Pride of Baltimore survived for almost five days in a crowded life raft in the Atlantic Ocean by rationing one-half cup of water each and a bite of sea biscuit every eight hours, Coast Guard officials said today.
The eight survivors had almost depleted their rations when they caught the attention of the crew of a Norwegian freighter by waving a flashlight in the night. The crew of the freighter Toro plucked the eight from the sea at about 2 a.m. Monday.
Sunburned, smiling and wearing clothes borrowed from the tanker's crew, the six men and two women arrived on land here today flashing victory signs and waving as they were taken for medical examinations at the Coast Guard Air Station at Borinquen. They are to be flown to Baltimore County Wednesday.
Coast Guard aircraft and cutters continued today to search the waters about 240 miles north of here for signs of two of the crew members, including the ship's captain, who have been missing since the Pride sank after a sudden squall knocked down the ship and hurled its crew overboard last Wednesday morning. Officials said today that one crew member had drowned and another was presumed to be dead.
Preliminary interviews conducted by the Coast Guard revealed that the schooner had encountered no weather problems when it began the last leg of its journey from St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands to the Chesapeake Bay on May 12. The next day the ship ran into a line of squalls -- sudden, tornado-like rainstorms -- about 280 nautical miles from San Juan. For 24 hours the crew, clad in foul-weather gear, fought the rain and wind by decreasing the sail area in the mainsail and taking in the jib and the foresail, Coast Guard officials said.
"They were in the process of squaring the deck away when another squall hit," said Lt. Cmdr. Michael Brown, a Coast Guard investigator. In seconds, the wind changed from 30 miles an hour to between 65 and 90 miles an hour. The rough seas grew from six to eight feet, officials said.
The ship suddenly was thrust on its port side, Coast Guard officials said, and it hung there for a few seconds as water rolled onto the deck. With its port side rail under water, the ship began righting itself.
But within 60 to 90 seconds, the ship began sinking in water estimated to be more than three miles deep.
With visibility about 50 feet, the 42-year-old captain, Armin E. Elsaesser, and first mate John (Sugar) Flanagan tried to free the ship's two life rafts. One raft had been punctured by the rigging and was useless, and the other had blown its valve upon impact with the water. The eight rescued crew members spent four hours inflating it manually.
According to the Coast Guard, the eight drifted 140 miles before the crew of the tanker Toro noticed a tiny blinking light -- the flashlight -- signaling that a boat was in trouble.
Why and how the 137-foot clipper could sink so rapidly was still unclear today. Gail Shawe, executive director of Pride of Baltimore Inc., said that all but one of the crew members, James Chesney, the cook, were on deck during the freak accident. "They had safety harnesses on, but I can't say how many if any had on life jackets," she said, adding that she did not know how Chesney got out of the ship and onto the life raft.
Survivors told officials that after the accident they saw crew member Barry Duckworth drown and 23-year-old deckhand Jeanette (Nina) Schack of Baltimore floating motionless in the water. Officials said they were still hopeful that Elsaesser and 27-year-old engineer Vincent Lazzaro were alive and clinging to some of the ship's debris or life preservers that had been seen floating in the area of the wreckage.
As dawn broke today, the survivors were hoisted from the moving freighter by wire baskets and lifted into helicopters that hovered about 100 feet above the Norwegian ship, which had sailed to about 75 miles off the coast of Puerto Rico this morning.
Each lift, made under a burning sun and clear blue sky, was uneventful, Coast Guard officials said.
"It was pretty easy," Lt. Pete Verrault said. "One of the best of these kind of rescues."
Once lifted from the ship, the rescued crew members were flown to land in pairs aboard HH65 helicopters. The operation lasted four hours.
The crew members, some barefoot, appeared to be in good spirits as they walked across the pavement at the air base here this morning. First mate Flanagan, clad in a bright orange flight suit, hugged crew mate Leslie McNish, turned to reporters and gave a one-word status report: "Fine."
McNish and Scott Jeffrey of North Linthicum, Md., waved at television crews from the helicopter, and Jeffrey felt good enough to joke with airmen.
"He asked me where the nearest pizza joint was," said Verrault, who piloted a helicopter that brought three pairs of crew members to land. "I radioed ahead and ordered him one with pepperoni, onion and pepper."
All were examined by a Coast Guard physician upon arrival at the air base and sent to rest today in barracks on the base. The cook, Chesney, suffered a bruised or fractured rib, but a Coast Guard doctor who examined him said he was not sure how the injury occurred.
"They are in relatively good condition," said Cmdr. Alfred Brassel Jr., a Coast Guard flight surgeon. "But all of them are suffering from various degrees of skin infections" caused by exposure to sun and saltwater.
None of the crew members could be interviewed today. Shawe said that she, the crew members and the Pride of Baltimore board of directors had decided to sequester the crew until Wednesday.
"I gave them the option," Shawe said. "They need some time to recoup . . . . They want an opportunity to be on land and to breathe a sigh of relief."
Shawe said a news conference will be held Wednesday at Martin Air Field in Baltimore County when the crew arrives on the U.S. mainland.
She said they are to fly from Puerto Rico shortly after noon on private jets with members of the Pride board, including Christopher Hartman, Peter Partridge and Eamonn McGeady, the uncle of Maryland crew member Joseph McGeady Jr., who survived the sinking.
Shawe said the Pride of Baltimore, a city-owned replica of a 19th century clipper, had been expected to arrive in Norfolk Monday.
The other rescued crew members are Daniel Krachuk, 22, of Springfield, Pa.; Susan Huesman, 24, of Baltimore, and Robert Foster, 23, of Alexandria.