New details of a ship’s battle with superstorm Sandy

Claudine Zap
Claudine Zap
The Lookout
Bounty survivors on "Good Morning America"

A new account of the HMS Bounty's last hours battling Hurricane Sandy reads like a novel. But unfortunately the story is true, and ends tragically with the death of the captain and a crew member and the destruction of the ship.

Reports have emerged that Capt. Robin Walbridge chose to ride out Hurricane Sandy at sea instead of keeping the ship docked, where it would most likely have sustained major damage without any loss of life.

The details as told by surviving crew members, to the German publication Spiegel and published on ABC's website in English, claim that the captain's risky decision could have been swayed by the ship's owner, New York businessman Robert Hansen, who was trying to sell the Bounty for $4.6 million.

As the publication describes the choice:

Captain Walbridge had a decision to make. He could leave the ship, the Bounty, in the harbor at New London, where it would be tossed back and forth by the storm and would presumably sustain serious damage. Or he could try to save the ship by taking it out into the Atlantic, thereby putting his life and the lives of his 15 crewmembers on the line. Walbridge wanted to save his ship. A ship versus 16 human lives. How can such a decision be explained?

The Spiegel report adds that the 63-year-old, normally calm and level-headed, who had been at the helm of the Bounty for 17 years, turned into someone different, a man "who overestimated himself and his ship, and who felt invincible after all those years at sea." One interview revealed he discussed "chasing hurricanes," whereas the common wisdom is to follow them.

As we now know, the plan went disastrously wrong, with the crew abandoning ship. The three-masted tall ship went down in 18-foot-high waves off the coast of North Carolina.

The Coast Guard rescued 14 of the crew in two life rafts, which left two missing. The 42-year-old crew member Claudene Christian was found dead in the water later that day. A  descendant of the 1789 mutiny of the original Bounty, Fletcher Christian, she had texted her mother earlier that day, "Don't worry. We'll be fine. ... Our ship is strong. They say Bounty loves hurricanes."

A search for the captain was eventually called off.

The Coast Guard is looking into whether anyone is to blame for the sinking of the ship—which was built for the 1962 film "Mutiny on the Bounty" and can also be seen in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies.