Superstorm Sandy Ship Rescue Fills Chopper With Cheers

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

ByABC News
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.

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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.