ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. — The U.S. Coast Guard halted its search Thursday for the captain of a tall ship that sank off the North Carolina coast during Hurricane Sandy after more than three days of around-the-clock effort.
The Coast Guard for 90 hours searched for 63-year-old Robin Walbridge of St. Petersburg, Fla., using ships, helicopters, and large planes before suspending its efforts at approximately 6:42 p.m., said Lt. Michael Patterson.
“Suspending a search and rescue case is one of the hardest decisions we have to make,” said Capt. Doug Cameron, the chief of incident response for the Coast Guard 5th District.
The HMS Bounty was originally built for the 1962 film “Mutiny on the Bounty” starring Marlon Brando, and it was featured in several other films over the years, including one of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.
Walbridge was captain of the three-masted tall ship, which sank before dawn Monday in hurricane-churned waters about 90 miles off Cape Hatteras. The crew abandoned ship in two life rafts, and the Coast Guard rescued 14 crew members. Claudene Christian, 42, was among those rescued, but she died.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Walbridge and Christian families,” Cameron said.
The search persisted for days despite rough seas in hopes the healthy, expert seaman could stay alive in his survival suit in the relatively warm waters near the site of the shipwreck, the Coast Guard said. The water temperature was 79 degrees Thursday, but seas rocked waves of 4 feet and the winds were 30 mph.
The ship’s connection to its namesake went back to the original Bounty, whose crew famously took over the ship from its commander, Lt. William Bligh, in April 1789. The mutiny was led by Fletcher Christian, and Claudene Christian said she was his great-great-great-great-great granddaughter.
Walbridge believed he could navigate the ship around Hurricane Sandy when the Bounty set sail last week from Connecticut. After two days in rough seas, he realized his journey would be far more difficult.
“I think we are going to be into this for several days,” Walbridge said in a message posted Sunday on the vessel’s Facebook site, which reads like a ship’s log of its activities. “We are just going to keep trying to go fast.”
By Monday morning, the vessel had started taking on water, its engines failed and the crew had to abandon ship as it went down in 18-foot waves. By the time the first rescue helicopter arrived, all that was visible of the ship was a strobe light atop the vessel’s submerged masts. The roiling Atlantic Ocean had claimed the rest.