Superstorm Sandy Ship Rescue Fills Chopper With Cheers

One crew member was "unresponsive" and one is missing.

October 29, 2012, 9:47 AM

Oct. 29, 2012 — -- Cheers filled a Coast Guard rescue helicopter today each time the crew plucked sailors from the churning sea roiled up by Hurricane Sandy, but one sailor was critical condition and Coast Guard ships and planes are searching for one more crew member.

Fourteen people were rescued from the tall ship HMS Bounty early this morning. A 15th person was pulled from the Atlantic hours later, but was unresponsive. That person, identified as Claudene Christian, was taken to Albemarle Hospital in Elizabeth City, N.C.

"She is here. Right now she is in critical condition," hospital spokesman Patrick Detwiler said.

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Crews are still looking for Robin Walbridge, 63. The Coast Guard identified Walbridge as the ship's captain.

Christian and Walbridge was washed into the sea when the three-masted replica of the historic ship began taking on water. The crew was abandoning ship during the night when the hurricane flung them into the sea.

"What we know is that the whole crew was getting ready to board the life rafts, and as they were about to board, three people ended up on the water. One was able to get out [of the water] and get into rafts," Coast Guard Lt. Junior Grade Brendan Selerno told

The Bounty, 180-foot replica of the ship featured in the film "Mutiny on the Bounty," was 90 miles southeast of Hatteras, N.C., when the owner called saying she'd lost contact with the crew Sunday night, The AP reported.

A C130 plane spotted the wreckage this morning and Lt. Jane Pena co-piloted one of two rescue choppers to the site and found one sailor adrift by himself wearing an insulated suit called a Gumby suit. Pena said he was spotted by the strobe lights attached to the suit.

"We hoisted him up first thing," Pena said. "We then saw another strobe 1,000 yards away. It was the ship. It had sunk, but three masts were sticking out."

The C130 directed their helicopter to a life raft that had seven survivors in a covered raft. Video of the rescue shows a Coast Guard swimmer being lowered into the water and one-by-one attaching the sailors to the hoist line.

"The first man brought up was especially happy to see us," Pena said. "He was very thankful. He kept telling them we were doing a great job. I did hear cheering every time someone was brought on board."

Peña said her rescue team were able to get an additional four survivors on board before they began to run out of fuel and had to head to head back to shore.

A second chopper picked up the remaining sailors.

The survivors were taken to Air Station Elizabeth City on the North Carolina coast. Selerno told that two people were admitted to the hospital, one with a broken arm and one with an injured back.

The ship left Connecticut last week for St. Petersburg, Fla. The crew had been in constant contact with the National Hurricane Center and tried to go around the storm, according to the director of the HMS Bounty Organization, Tracie Simonin.

But the ship got caught in Sandy's fury and began taking on water. The cold water survival suits, also called Gumby suits, staved off hypothermia for the shipwrecked sailors.

Hurricane Sandy Live Tracker

Coast Guard video of the rescues shows the sailors being plucked from covered life rafts and hauled into the helicopter.

A Coast Guard plane spotted the ship before it went down and directed two rescue helicopters to the scene. At 6:40 a.m., the H65 Jayhawk helicopters hoisted 14 people out of their lifeboats and into the choppers.

The survivors were taken to Air Station Elizabeth City on the North Carolina coast.

Initial reports said there were 17 people on the Bounty, but the manifest indicated the ship only has 16 people aboard.

Cathy Carey of Nova Scotia is a former president of the Society of Preservation of the HMS Bounty and said the last time she saw the ship it looked "well taken care of and I felt really good about the whole thing."

But she wondered why Walbridge was on the ocean with all the warnings about the looming superstorm.

"He knew the storm was coming, for a couple of weeks. He had plenty of time to know," she said. "He shouldn't have gone out there, but it's all hindsight now."

Hugh Boyd, 77, a former Bounty captain for 16 years, echoed Carey in wondering why Walbridge took the ship out as a hurricane approached.

"I'm so sorry he went out in this weather to risk the lives of him and his crew," Boyd said. "It was very risky business."

The former captain said he was devastated by the news of its sinking. He said he had been fielding phone calls all day from about 40 former crew members all who lamented the ship's loss.

"She was so special to many of us, very, very special," he said. "We were so proud to be a part of it and now to hear that she's gone, it's a disaster. This is upsetting, very, upsetting."

Hurricane Sandy Live Updates

Hurricane Sandy, which is stirring up waves as large as 32 feet high according to buoy readings, is also giving a wild ride to passengers on at least five cruise ships.

Captain Vito Giacalone of Carnival Cruise Lines told ABC News via telephone that the storm is getting intense.

"We are navigating through some serious weather, but we're not experiencing any issues. The vessel is very capable," he said.

The five cruise ships in the waters that Sandy is churning today are the Aiduluna, the Carnival Miracle, Explorer of the Seas, the Norwegian Jewel and the Queen Mary 2, which is heading to the United Kingdom.

Daniel Gonzales disembarked from the Disney Dream on Sunday, saying everyone on the ship was getting sick from the waves.

"The ship was going back and forth. It was really scary," said Gonzales.

Cruise ships now out in the waters are being forced to re-route and attempt to ride out the storm throughout the week, and cruise companies are delaying departures and arrivals, and have even cancelled trips.

This is not the first time cruise ship passengers have been tossed about in waves in the past couple of years. In 2010, the Cleilia 2 endured 30-40 foot waves as it sailed through the Drake Passage.

One ship was cruising off the coast of Spain in 2005 when a freak wave more than 70-feet tall crashed against it, reaching the ship's 10th floor and soaking some passengers.

ABC News' Tracey Marx contributed to this report

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