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Crew member dead, captain missing after Canadian-built replica of HMS Bounty sinks

A crewman from the replica tall ship HMS Bounty is aided in the water by a member of the U.S. Coast Guard next to a life raft in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 144 kilometres southeast of Hatteras, North Carolina, October 29, 2012.

U.S. Coast Guard/REUTERS

One crew member has died and the captain is missing in high seas and raging winds after the Canadian-built replica of HMS Bounty was abandoned and sank Monday morning.

U.S. Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopters rescued 14 others from life rafts in a dramatic dawn rescue about 150 kilometres off Cape Hatteras, N.C.

As the crew abandoned the sinking ship, struggling to get into life rafts before dawn, three were tossed into the sea by waves sweeping over the stricken vessel. "One of those managed to get to a raft, but not the other two," U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Lieutenant-Commander Jamie Frederick told The Globe and Mail at 13:30 pm.

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The dead crew member, 42-year-old Claudene Christian, was found unresponsive in the water on Monday evening. The Coast Guard said she was taken to a hospital in Elizabeth City, where she was later pronounced dead.

Rescuers continued to search for the missing captain of Bounty, 63-year-old Robin Walbridge.

The Coast Guard says Captain Walbridge and Ms. Christian were able to put on survival suits designed to keep them afloat and protect them from chilly waters for 15 hours.

Helicopters were used in the search and two Coast Guard cutters have also gone out to sea to help search.

"We're throwing all the assets we have out there so that we can keep searching for these folks," Cdmr Frederick said.

Earlier he confirmed that "14 are safe on shore."

The dramatic rescue – crew members were winched from life-rafts to the hovering, bright orange Jayhawk helicopters – began just after dawn after the crew of the stricken Bounty fought and lost a night-long battle to save the ship that had starred in many movies.

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After abandoning the sinking ship at about 4:30 a.m., the crew spent more than two hours tossing in life rafts before the Jayhawks arrived.

"They're in cold-water survival suits in two life rafts and the first Jayhawk is overhead," Lt.-Cmdr Frederick said at 7 a.m. as the rescue began. One helicopter lifted nine of the crew, the other hoisted the remaining five. Although there was no official word on their condition, they were flown to the Coast Guard air station rather than direct to hospital which is a good sign.

The ship, built in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia for the 1962 Mutiny on the Bounty movie was an enlarged replica of the famous British warship seized by mutineers in 1789 in Tahiti.

The 55-metre, 400-tonne replica vessel has appeared in many documentaries and the Pirates of the Caribbean films.

Bounty's crew sent a distress call at 6:30 p.m. Sunday night, reporting the ship had lost power and its pump was unable to keep up with water from high waves that was slowly flooding the ship.

Bounty sank, according to the vessel's Facebook page, at 8:45 a.m. Monday morning. That report has yet to be confirmed.

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Two elderly shipbuilders, who had worked on the Bounty when it was being built in Lunenburg in the early 1960s, were shocked Monday morning to hear the news the ship had sank. Both had visited the Bounty this summer, admiring their handiwork from so long ago, when it came into the Lunenburg harbour as part of the Tall Ships festival.

Edgar Silver worked on planking and framing of the famous ship, and said he was proud of the work he had done.

The 88-year-old, who lives in Bridgewater, not far from Lunenburg, hadn't heard the news this morning that the Bounty had sunk.

"Oh, oh," Edward Mosher said Monday morning when hearing the news about the Bounty. "Well, I don't know what to think."

He was concerned about the fate of the crew.

"It was a well-made ship," he said.

- With a report from The Associated Press

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International Affairs and Security Correspondent

Paul More

Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More


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