A Coast Guard spokesman has confirmed that Bounty crew member Claudene Christian, was pulled from the ocean unresponsive, and pronounced dead tonight at a North Carolina hospital Monday night after the historic tall ship went down early Monday morning.
Ms. Christian, 42, of Oklahoma, was an established descendant of Fletcher Christian, who was a leader of the famous mutiny aboard the original British naval vessel, the HMS Bounty.
The coast guard spokesman said they were unable to release further information at this time on Christian’s death, but details would be forthcoming. However, the hospital at Elizabeth City, N.C. said Christian’s condition when she arrived was “critical.”
Among those rescued was a 28 year-old St. Augustine man, John Daniel Jones. His father, Larry Jones, told the St. Augustine Record the family was on its way to pick up their son in North Carolina.
More raw video footage from Bounty rescue and the sinking ship
“Obviously, he’s extremely distraught,” Larry Jones told the Record’s Douglas Jordan. “But he’s grateful to be alive.”
Jones said his son signed on as a Bounty Crew member when the ship made an April visit to St. Augustine – America’s oldest city, to celebrate the 223rd Anniversary of the famous mutiny.
Meanwhile, the search continues for Bounty Captain Robin Walbridge, 63, who is the remaining person missing. Walbridge is a native of St. Petersburg, Florida, and has been the captain of the Bounty since 1995. He is described by Bounty crew members and on the ship’s website as a “quiet, self-effacing individual.”
His dedication, restoration work and upkeep of the ship is described as “a labor of love.”
“Keeping her afloat has been a full-time occupation for many years. If it weren’t for Robin’s efforts, the ship would have sunk at the dock in Fall River, Massachusetts… To Robin, Bounty is an extension of himself.”
Well-known and respected in the nautical community, Walbridge himself said in interviews that aside from the Bounty, the highlight of his career is the two years he spent training the crew of “Old Ironsides,” the U.S.S. Constitution as guest Captain and advisor.
Both Christian and Walbridge were among three members washed overboard when the ship went down in rough seas early Monday morning about 90 miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina due to the monster storm Sandy.
According to the coast guard and crew member accounts, one of the crew managed to swim to a lifeboat, but Christian and Walbridge were carried away by the 18-foot waves that were reported to have been battering the ship most of the day. The Coast Guard said they rescued 14 people from the sea and the lifeboats and that these crew members appeared to be “in good shape.”
See quadrust.com story: Storm sinks historic HMS Bounty, capt missing, crew says ‘ship sank beneath us’
Video of footage of dramatic Coast Guard rescue of HMS Bounty crew members
Coast Guard Vice Admiral Robert Parker said that many of the crew members were swimming in the water when the Coast Guard arrived.
The ordeal for the crew of the 180-foot, three-mast Bounty began late Sunday night.
Tracie Simonin, director of the Bounty organization, HMS Bounty Organization LLC, said in a statement to press that she had spoken with the Bounty by satellite phone at around 8:30 p.m. Sunday, and that the ship was “trying to steer clear” of hurricane Sandy as it approached.
But the Bounty started to take on water because pumps were not working properly, Simonin said.
Simonin herself contacted the Coast Guard when she lost radio contact – with the last missive being that the ship was taking on two feet of water per hours. The rescue service in Portsmouth later received a distress signal from the Bounty, with its emergency beacon indicated its location.
One crew member, Douglas Faunt, posted this account on his Facebook page, “The ship sank beneath us, but we swam free and mostly got into two rafts. I’m at the USCG station Elizabeth City NC. There are two unaccounted for at present.”
Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Jamie Frederick said rescuers planned to search through the night for Walbridge. One cutter, the Elm, was already at the scene of the ship and aircraft were still searching even as it got dark Monday evening. Another high performance ship was en route to the scene. Frederick said.
Walbridge was wearing a survival suit that will keep him afloat and warm and water temperatures were at about 70 degrees. Rescuers are hoping that he can survive the night.
“Obviously, our hearts and prayers are with the families,” Frederick said. “We are continuing to search for that one person with the hope that he’s alive.”
The Bounty was originally thought to be carrying 17 people, but the coast guard later said the manifest showed 16 aboard.
At about 5:30 a.m. Monday, “the crew told the coast guard that they were going to have to abandon the ship,” Weydert said.
It is believed that both Christian and Captain Walbridge were both washed overboard when they were attempting to abandon the ship.
Meanwhile, Christian’s parents had announced earlier in the day they were in route to North Carolina.
Claudene Christian is the great-great-great-great-great granddaughter of Fletcher Christian – the crewman who seized command of the original Bounty from William Bligh in the mutiny of 1789. In an interview with a Canadian news reporter when the Bounty was in Nova Scotia this summer for a Tall Ships festival, Christian told him that “she had wanted to get taken on as a crew member on the replica Bounty for a long time.”
“It’s incredible,” she said. “I have a marketing background, so I wasn’t sure if they’d take me because I didn’t have a sailing background, although I’ve been totally interested in it all my life.
“I just decided I was going to apply for who I am, and they took me.”
She talked about her deep pride in the ship and relished her family’s connection to the story of Bounty.
“I was at the helm the first week and said, ‘Captain, are you sure you’re comfortable having a Christian at the helm? I wasn’t sure if he got my joke.”
The Christians and Blighs have a reunion each year in England, “and that’s something I would love to attend,” Christian said.
“We’re all good. We love the Bounty on both sides.”
Christian mother said the last contact they had with their daughter was on Thursday when she called to tell them that she loved them and that she wouldn’t be able to contact them from the sea, her mom said.
Christian is a graduate of University of Southern California, as well as a former Miss Teen Alaska.
She is the also the creator of “Cheerleader Dolls.”
Her aunt, Patricia Saulsberry, said Christian had taken an interest in tall ships when she toured replicas of the Nina and the Pinta. She joined the crew of the HMS Bounty in May, according to Christian’s Twitter account.
The last posting by crew members from the Bounty on the ship’s Facebook page was at 2 p.m. on Sunday. “Looks to be sailing thru the tail end of the rain storms.”
The last reported coordinates were at N 34 degrees 22′ W 074 degrees 15′, speed 10.3 knots.
The last post on the HMS Bounty’s Facebook Page was about 3 hours ago. The statement reads, “Thank you to everyone for your support and prayers at this devastating time. We want to thank the USCG for their bravery and risking their lives to save ours. At this time, 14 crew members have been safely returned to land. There were 16 brave crew members aboard the Bounty. With sadness in our hearts we are reporting that we have lost one crew member and still missing another. The USCG is continuing their effort to search for our last crew member. Please continue to send your love and support to us, it is much needed.”
The Bounty was on its way from New London, Conn. to St. Petersburg, Florida – which had been its original home port. An almost exact replica of the original, the ship was built for the 1962 filming of the Hollywood Classic “Mutiny on the Bounty”, starring Marlon Brando, but also featured the helm used in the 1935 movie starring Clark Gable.
Called “the world’s most famous tall ship,” in recent years, the Bounty made Cameo appearances in a score of movies with modern cult followings from “Treasure Island” and Spongebob Squarepants to “Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Man’s Chest.”
In April, the Hollywood icon celebrated the 223rd anniversary of the notorious mutiny (April 26, 1789) in St. Augustine, Florida. A special celebration of the anniversary brought fans and tall ship enthusiasts from around the world to America’s oldest city.
See a slideshow of the last days of the HMS Bounty, including last photos taken aboard ship during the storm
For Bounty World Tour slideshow and special feature on the famous tall ship, HMS Bounty, See examiner article: Hollywood legend to visit America’s oldest city
Remembering the HMS Bounty: more photos from St. Augustine, Florida:
View slideshow: HMS Bounty St. Augustine arrival: blue skies, tricky bridge negotiation, and pursuit by pirates. The view from the prow of the Black Raven pirate of the World’s Most Famous Tall Ship
‘HMS Bounty St Augustine Farewell Slideshow’
Video: sailing aboard the HMS Bounty