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Coast Guard hopeful about finding Bounty's captain

The Coast Guard rescued 14 crew members of the HMS Bounty after they were forced to abandon ship and stay on two life rafts. Coast guard Lieutenant Commander Steve Bonn, Lieutenant Jenny Fields and Petty Officer Daniel Todd discuss the daring rescue mission.

Coast Guard officials deployed ships and airplanes to search the Atlantic on Tuesday for the captain of the HMS Bounty, which went down in hurricane-ravaged seas.

The Coast Guard is optimistic Robin Walbridge, 63, of St. Petersburg, Fla., could still be alive in his blazing red survival suit 90 miles off the North Carolina coast. Wallbridge went overboard early Monday when the replica 18th-century sailing vessel, made famous in Hollywood adventure films, rolled over in 18-foot waves.

"There's a lot of factors that go into survivability. Right now we're going to continue to search. Right now we're hopeful," Coast Guard Capt. Joe Kelly told The Associated Press.

Mark Duncan / AP

The tall ship HMS Bounty sails on Lake Erie off Cleveland.

The Coast Guard rescued 14 crew members of the Bounty by helicopter Monday. Hours later, they found Claudene Christian, 42, unresponsive. She was taken to Albemarle Hospital in Elizabeth City, N.C., where she was pronounced dead, spokesman Patrick Detwiler said. 

Christian claimed ancestry to the original Bounty mutineer Fletcher Christian, according to Reuters.

The rest of the crew was in good condition, officials said. Coast Guard video of the rescue showed crew members being loaded one by one into a basket before the basket was hoisted into the helicopter.

When they returned to the mainland, some were wrapped in blankets, still wearing the red survival suits they put on to stay warm in the chilly waters.

The survivors received medical attention and were to be interviewed for a Coast Guard investigation.

NBC News could not reach the ship's operators for comment. The Red Cross, which arranged hotel accommodations for the surviving crew members, said they had declined an interview request on Tuesday.

Uncredited / AP

In this image made from video and released by the U.S. Coast Guard, a USCG crew member uses a hoist to bring up a survivor into a helicopter.

The Coast Guard identified them as: Daniel Cleveland, 25; John Svendsen, 41; Matthew Sanders, 37; Adam Prokosh, 27; Douglas Faunt, 66; John Jones, 29; Drew Salapatek, 29; Joshua Scornavacchi, 25; Anna Sprague, 20; Mark Warner, 33; Christopher Barksdale, 56; Laura Groves, 28; Jessica Hewitt, 25; and Jessica Black, 34. The Coast Guard did not make them available to reporters.

Svendsen's mother, Jo Svendsen of Nisswa, Minn., said she was waiting to hear back from her son, John Svendsen, who was among the rescued crew. He had been working on the Bounty for the last three years, she ssaid. Jo Svendsen said her son suffered a broken hand and ribs from the ordeal.

"We don't have any news today, but he said he would call us when he was off his medication and could make sense of everything," Jo Svendsen told NBC News on Tuesday.

Rough seas
The search through the night for the captain encompassed 1,300 square miles, aided by a Miami-based plane with night-vision capability. A decision on how much longer to search will come later Tuesday, Kelly said.

Sandy strengthens as it bears down on eastern US

When the Bounty set sail last week, Wallbridge believed he could navigate the ship around the storm. 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," Robin Walbridge said in a message posted Sunday on the Bounty's Facebook page, which reads like a ship's log. "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 of the stately craft had to abandon ship as it went down in the hurricane-ravaged waves.

By the time the first rescue helicopter arrived, all that was visible of the ship was a strobe light atop the mighty vessel's submerged masts. The roiling Atlantic Ocean had claimed the rest.

The final hours of the HMS Bounty, as it was officially named, were as dramatic as the movies she starred in.

The ship 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.

The Coast Guard has rescued 14 people from the HMS Bounty, the 880-foot schooner sinking off the coast of North Carolina, but two crew members are still missing. TODAY's Al Roker reports.

'She loved the Bounty'
Rochelle Smith, 44, met Christian this summer when they sailed the HMS Bounty in Nova Scotia.

"She loved the Bounty. She absolutely loved it. She was so happy to be on it and doing something that she found that she loved to do," said Smith, a medical transcriptionist who lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.

Christian had written on her Facebook page that she was a descendent of the original Bounty mutineer Fletcher Christian.

The original Bounty, a British transport 'square rigger', gained infamy for a mutiny in Tahiti in 1789. Marlon Brando starred as lead mutineer Fletcher Christian in the movie for which the ship was built.

Claudene Christian wrote on her Facebook page that she was descended from him and that she lived and worked aboard the ship and taught people about its history.

"As a descendent of Fletcher Christian, played in four movies by Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Marlon Brando & Mel Gibson, I'm sure my ancestor would be proud," she wrote on her page.

Genealogist Janice Sellers, who writes the blog Ancestral Discoveries, said she knew Claudene Christian when they were students at the University of Southern California, and that Christian had said she was the fifth great-granddaughter of the sailor who led the mutiny against Captain William Bligh.

She said Christian's interest in her heritage had led her to join the replica ship's crew in May.

The vessel left Connecticut on Thursday with a crew of 11 men and five women, ranging in age from 20 to 66. Everyone aboard knew the journey could be treacherous.

"This will be a tough voyage for Bounty," read a posting on the ship's Facebook page that showed a map of its coordinates and satellite images of the storm. Photos showed the majestic vessel plying deep blue waters and the crew working in the rigging or keeping watch on the wood-planked deck.

As Sandy's massive size became more apparent, a post on Saturday tried to soothe any worried supporters: "Rest assured that the Bounty is safe and in very capable hands. Bounty's current voyage is a calculated decision ... NOT AT ALL ... irresponsible or with a lack of foresight as some have suggested. The fact of the matter is ... A SHIP IS SAFER AT SEA THAN IN PORT!"

But as the storm gathered strength, the Facebook posts grew grimmer. By mid-morning Monday, the last update was short and ominous: "Please bear with us ... There are so many conflicting stories going on now. We are waiting for some confirmation."

Tracie Simonin, director of the HMS Bounty Organization, said the ship tried to stay clear of Sandy. "It was something that we and the captain of the ship were aware of," Simonin said.

BreakingNews.com's coverage of Hurricane Sandy

Gary Farber was watching crewman Doug Faunt's house while his friend sailed. He hasn't heard from Faunt directly, but made sure he relayed Faunt's Facebook postings he made as the ship went down, including "The ship sank beneath us, but we swam free and mostly got into two rafts."

"Doug is a jack-of-all-trades, a super confident person who likes to get things done," Farber told NBC News on Tuesday. "Right now, he's trying to figure out how to get home."

The Bounty's captain was from St. Petersburg and learned to sail at age 10, according to his biography on the Bounty's website. Prior to the Bounty, he served as first mate on the H.M.S. Rose — the Bounty's sister ship.

"The ship was almost like his home," said Smith, who met Walbridge in 2010 when she sailed the Bounty. "That's where he spent most of his time was aboard the ship. He was so full of history and so interesting to talk to. And he knew his sailing stuff."

NBC News's Sevil Omer, the Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.