The crew of HMS Bounty was forced to abandon ship off North Carolina coast yesterday as it became caught in raging seas near the eye of Hurricane Sandy while the captain remains missing, presumed dead.
It now means 15 of the 16 crew members of the iconic boat are accounted for – with 63-year-old captain Robin Walbridge yet to be found.
Two coast guard helicopters rescued 14 people from life rafts after they were forced to abandon ship.
As six-metre waves and ferocious gales battered the decks of the 180-foot, three-masted ship – knocking out its power – terrified crew-members clambered into life boats to watch their floating home shrink unmanned into the darkness.
However, following the rescue of 14 crew members, two people – including the ship’s captain – were missing at sea.
The world-famous boat- which featured in Hollywood blockbusters Mutiny on the Bounty with Marlon Brando and two Pirates of the Caribbean films, starring Johnny Depp – became stranded on Sunday night about 90 miles southeast of Hatteras, North Carolina.
The crew were picked hours later up by a search and rescue team who were dispatched by helicopter to bring them to safety.
But fears were confirmed that this was indeed the final voyage of the historic replica after the coast guard said it did not have time to retrieve her before conditions became too dangerous.
HMS Bounty crew was forced to abandon ship off North Carolina coast as it became caught in raging seas near the eye of Hurricane Sandy
“The 17 person crew donned cold water survival suits and lifejackets before launching in two 25-man lifeboats with canopies,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.
The ship was built in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia for the 1962 movie Mutiny on the Bounty that starred Marlon Brando.
It is a replica of the British Navy’s original HMS Bounty on which the famous mutiny took place in Tahiti in 1789 and is now used as a sailing school for prospective seafarers.
It was built using the original ship drawings from files in the British admiralty archives, but its dimensions were enlarged by around a third to fit the enormous 70 mm cameras used in the filming.
Some 400,000 feet of lumber were used, 10,000 square yards of canvas were sewn by hand and 10 miles of rope were rigged before it was ready for the silver screen.
The plan was to burn the ship in a dramatic final act, but Marlon Brando had become so attached to the vessel that he threatened to walk out in protest so, rather than lose their star, its owners MGM agreed to keep it in service.
It has since become one of Hollywood’s most famous ships and was used in filming for the 1989 film Treasure Island with Charlton Heston and also appeared in two of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End, both starring Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley.
This year it was put up for sale by its current owners for $4.6 million.
Seventeen people aboard HMS Bounty have abandoned ship off the coast of North Carolina amid Hurricane Sandy.
The captain gave the order for the crew to enter the lifeboats at 4:30 EST and a rescue attempt by a US coastguard helicopter is under way.
The HMS Bounty Organization said it would assess whether the ship could be saved but its concern was for the crew.
HMS Bounty is a replica of the original Bounty, famous for its ill-fated trip to Tahiti and the West Indies in 1789.
Tracie Simonin, director of the HMS Bounty Organization, said that the ship began to experience difficulties at about 18:30 EST on Sunday when it lost power and was unable to continue “de-watering”.
Seventeen people aboard HMS Bounty have abandoned ship off the coast of North Carolina amid Hurricane Sandy
“At that time we contacted the US coastguard for assistance,” she said.
“A C-130 plane was sent to their position, which was 90 miles south-east of Cape Hatteras, and then at 04:30 EST this morning the captain ordered all hands to abandon ship.
“All 17 crew were accounted for in the liferafts and a US coastguard helicopter is on the scene rescuing them now.”
Tracie Simonin added: “As far as we know the ship is still upright and we’re going to assess the situation to see if anything can be done to save the ship but at this point our main concern is with the crew.”
Tracie Simonin said everyone on board was American.