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Superstorm Sandy Ship Rescue Fills Chopper with Cheers

U.S. Coast Guard(ELIZABETH CITY, N.C.) -- Cheers filled a Coast Guard rescue helicopter Monday each time its crew plucked sailors from the churning sea roiled up by Hurricane Sandy, but one sailor from the stricken tall ship HMS Bounty was in critical condition -- and Coast Guard ships and planes are still searching for one more crew member.

Fourteen people were rescued early Monday morning from the HMS Bounty. A 15th person was pulled from the Atlantic hours later, but was unresponsive. That person, identified as Claudene Christian, was taken to Albemarle Hospital in Elizabeth City, N.C.

"She is here. Right now she is in critical condition," hospital spokesman Patrick Detwiler said.

Crews are still looking for Robin Walbridge, 63. The Coast Guard identified Walbridge as the ship's captain.

Christian and Walbridge were washed into the sea when the three-masted replica of the historic ship began taking on water. The crew was abandoning ship during the night when the hurricane flung them into the sea.

The Bounty, 180-foot replica of the ship featured in the film Mutiny on the Bounty, was 90 miles southeast of Hatteras, N.C., when the owner called saying she'd lost contact with the crew Sunday night.

A C130 plane spotted the wreckage Monday morning and Coast Guard Lt. Jane Peña co-piloted one of two rescue choppers to the site. One sailor was spotted adrift by himself wearing an insulated suit called a Gumby suit. Pena said he was spotted by the strobe lights attached to the suit.

The C130 crew directed the helicopter to a covered liferaft that had seven survivors aboard. Video of the rescue shows a Coast Guard swimmer being lowered into the water and attaching the sailors to the hoist line and raising them into the helicopter one at a time.

Peña said her rescue team were able to get an additional four survivors on board before they began to run out of fuel and had to head to head back to shore.

A second chopper picked up the remaining sailors.

The survivors were taken to Air Station Elizabeth City on the North Carolina coast.

The Bounty left Connecticut last week for St. Petersburg, Fla. The crew had been in constant contact with the National Hurricane Center and tried to go around the storm, according to the director of the HMS Bounty Organization, Tracie Simonin. But the ship got caught in Sandy's fury and began taking on water. The cold water survival suits, also called Gumby suits, staved off hypothermia for the shipwrecked sailors.

Initial reports said there were 17 people on the Bounty, but the manifest indicated the ship only had 16 people aboard.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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