The US east coast is still recovering from the brutal assault of Hurricane Sandy, but not all the damage occurred on shore. Details have emerged of the tragedy that befell the replica of the HMS Bounty and her crew in late October as they tried to skirt the storm to head to homeport.
Battling winds and seas much higher than expected, the three-masted sailing ship began taking on water 90 miles off shore when her pumps failed late on October 28. Just as the crew was heading for life rafts, the Bounty began to capsize.
A US Coast Guard helicopter was the first to arrive from Air Station Elizabeth City, NC; its crew watched over the life rafts, dropped flares and deployed a self-locating datum marker buoy to assist in the search for survivors. Lt. Cmdr. Steve Cerveny was at the controls of the first rescue helicopter to arrive just after sunrise on Monday October 29, as Sandy continued to batter the coastline. “The biggest challenge was the wind and the waves,” recalls Petty Officer 3rd Class Mike Lufkin. “During the recovery of the survivors from the life raft, we tried adding weight bags in the basket to make it more manageable in the wind, but once the basket hit the water, it sunk.” Eventually, the team was able to pull survivors aboard the rescue helicopter with the help of rescue swimmer Petty Officer 2nd Class Randy Haba.
A second helicopter piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Steve Bonn soon arrived, and rescue swimmer Petty Officer 3rd Class Dan Todd dove into the waves. According to an account by LT Stephanie Young, “Todd swam to the raft and in a particularly calm, candid moment greeted the survivors with, ‘Hi, I’m Dan, I heard you guys need a ride’.” It was, Todd said, just an icebreaker. “It was good that we got to go help people. We were just doing the job,” he said.
Rescue operations continued after 14 crewmembers were pulled from the life rafts, as two members of the Bounty’s crew were still missing. A 42-year-old woman was found unresponsive seven nautical miles from the wreck that evening. The search for Captain Robin Walbridge had to be called off after over 90 hours and 12,000 nautical miles.
The Bounty’s survivors described their experience in an interview with ABC News on November 6. Being in a storm, was like being “in a washing machine during an earthquake. While going down giant slides,” Laura Groves said. Crewmember Dan Cleveland spoke up about Captain Walbridge and the 180-foot ship. “I’ve been through two other hurricanes with Robin on the Bounty,” Cleveland said. “The ship was in great shape. We were literally gonna be getting up and launching the life rafts and she went over.” But mostly, the crew was grateful to those who risked their lives to save them. “After this, I'm never going to have another bad day in my life,” Doug Faunt said.
To read the full account by Lt. Stephanie Young, click here.