The search for Captain Robin Walbridge, captain of HMS Bounty which was caught in the edge of the fierce Hurricane Sandy this week, has been called off and a formal investigation begun into the incident.
Captain Robin Walbridge, confirmed lost at sea
HMS Bounty and its crew abandoned the tall ship early Monday about 90 miles off the coast of North Carolina's Outer Banks near Cape Hatteras. The vessel lost power and started taking on water.
The U.S. Coast Guard rescued 13 crew members after they donned survival suits and managed to climb into two covered life rafts, and one other survivor was pulled from the water.
Bounty Capt. Robin Walbridge, 63, and crew member Claudene Christian never made to the life rafts and disappeared into the roiling ocean. Coast Guard rescue crews recovered the body of Claudene, 42, later that night.
The Coast Guard continued to search for Walbridge by sea and air with hopes he had survived, but Thursday night they suspended their efforts.
According to a news release, the same day the search was called off, Rear Adm. Steven Ratti, the Coast Guard fifth District commander, ordered a district formal investigation to determine the cause of the sinking, according to a news release.
Coincidentally, Michael Tougias, an expert on deadly sea tragedies the author of five nonfiction books chronicling heroic and dramatic sea incidents, was interviewed on an American television show about his work.
The Herald Sun reported that when asked by the announcer if any ships would venture out in Hurricane Sandy, his answer was, ‘No way,’' and he continued, 'Only large ships like aircraft carriers can manage that kind of storm in that area. I was so surprised when the news flashed about the Bounty.'
The seas off the coast of the Outer Banks where the crew and the Bounty perished is widely known as the 'Graveyard of the Atlantic,' where many ill-fated ships have been swallowed by the ocean and sailors have lost their lives.
Sailing the coast of North Carolina is a navigational nightmare, according to the National Park Service. Two powerful ocean currents, the cold-water Labrador Current from the north and the warm Gulf Stream from the south, collide near Cape Hatteras.
'You don’t want to be anywhere near the merging currents in a storm,' Tougias was reported as saying. 'There are a whole lot of reasons not to be out there.'
He said the Bounty’s captain and owner had ample notice of the impending hurricane and its scope, Tougias said.
'I think he had a schedule and was trying to outmaneuver the storm,' Tougias said.
The formal Coast Guard investigation will look at a number of facts to find out what happened Monday morning, when the Bounty went down.
The investigation will aim to determine the cause and will look at whether equipment failure; misconduct or inattention to duty; negligence or willful violation of the law on the part of any licensed or certificated person; evidence that any Coast Guard or other government agency personnel caused or contributed to the casualty; and whether the accident should be further investigated by a Marine Board of Investigation.
The formal investigation does not determine civil or criminal responsibility and is expected to take several months to complete.