ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (AP) — A replica tall ship caught in Hurricane Sandy's wrath began taking on water, forcing the crew to abandon the boat in rough seas off the North Carolina coast. The Coast Guard rescued 14 crew members by helicopter Monday but two people were still missing.
The HMS Bounty, which has been featured in Hollywood films such as "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," had left Connecticut last week, en route to St. Petersburg, Fla.
"They were staying in constant contact with the National Hurricane Center," said Tracie Simonin, the director of the HMS Bounty Organization. "They were trying to make it around the storm."
The Coast Guard initially received a call from the owner of the 180-foot, three-mast ship late Sunday evening, saying communication had been lost with the vessel's crew. The Coast Guard in Portsmouth, Va., later received an emergency distress call from the Bounty, confirming its position.
Coast Guard Vice Adm. Robert Parker, Operational Commander for the Atlantic Area, told ABC's "Good Morning America" that at the time of the distress call, the ship was taking on two feet of water an hour. It had about 10 feet of water when the crew abandoned the ship.
Most of the crew made it into canopied, 25-foot rubber life rafts, he said. Amid winds of 40 mph and 18-foot seas, two helicopters flew in for the rescue about 6:30 a.m. Monday, plucking crew members from the life boats.
The first helicopter rescued nine people and the second picked up five crew members a short time later about 90 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Brandyn Hill said.
Those rescued were being taken to Air Station Elizabeth City on the North Carolina coast. Hill had no immediate word on their conditions.
The ship left Connecticut on Thursday when Sandy was over Cuba, and its path and effect on the East Coast was still somewhat certain. Sandy was forecast to be several hundred miles off the Carolinas coast and the Outer Banks were not in the cone of uncertainty.
Days before it sank, the vessel had rerouted to avoid the brunt of Hurricane Sandy. However, a statement on its website acknowledged, "this will be a tough voyage for Bounty," the Tampa Bay Times reported.
The ship was built for the 1962 film "Mutiny on the Bounty," which starred Marlin Brando, and has been featured in other movies.
The HMS Bounty has docked off and on over the years at The Pier in St. Petersburg, Fla., and was scheduled to eventually arrive there in November, said Carol Everson, general manager of The Pier.
"I know they were very much looking forward to being here," she said. "They were very excited about coming down."
The Bounty's captain, Robin Walbridge, was from St. Petersburg, she said.
She and other employees of The Pier were closely following the story.
"It's devastating," she said. "Obviously you want all of the crew to be safe. It's a shame that the vessel has gone down because it's a tremendous piece of history and a great piece of history for St. Petersburg."
Wallbridge 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 permanently docked in St. Petersburg for many decades. In 1986, it was bought by Ted Turner, and in 2001, it was purchased by its current owner, New York businessman named Robert Hansen.
About 10 years ago, the ship underwent a multi-million dollar restoration.
In recent years, the ship has wintered in Puerto Rico and travels in the spring and summer. In August, large crowds greeted the ship when it sailed into St. Augustine, Fla., Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C.
Associated Press writers Bruce Smith in Charleston, S.C., and Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Fla. contributed to this report.