U.S. Coast Guard officials say the missing captain of the Nova Scotia-built replica tall ship HMS Bounty could still be found alive because of a combination of warm water and air temperatures.
Robin Walbridge has been missing since Monday morning, when the crew of HMS Bounty decided to abandon ship in high seas brought on by Hurricane Sandy off the coast of North Carolina. Walbridge didn't make it to a life-raft with the rest of his crew.
Petty Officer 1st Class Brandyn Hill, of the U.S. Coast Guard command centre in Portsmouth, Va., told CBC News the water temperature in the search area is 25 C and the air temperature is 19 C.
"It was reported to us that the captain of HMS Bounty was wearing a survival suit and this greatly increases his chances of survival in the water," he said Tuesday.
"At this time the Coast Guard is actively searching to find the captain alive."
The seas are 4.5 metres high and winds are about 68 kilometres per hour, said Hill.
A fixed-wing aircraft searched for Walbridge overnight, said Operations Specialist 1st Class Jacob Hyre with the U.S. Coast Guard in Portsmouth, Va.
"Through the night we had an HC-144 flying, the fixed-wing aircraft. This morning relieving it will be a C-130," Hyre told CBC News Tuesday morning.
"We also have the cutter Elm and we also have the Coast Guard cutter Gallatin en route in the search."
Hyre said the area of the search is about 2,500 square kilometres, close to where the crew decided to abandon ship after getting caught in 5.5-metre seas.
The Bounty sank several hours after the evacuation.
The 16 crew members of HMS Bounty tried to get to covered life-rafts but three of them were washed overboard in the process. One of the three people made it to the life-raft and was among the 14 people hoisted onto helicopters and taken to shore.
Captain was trying to get around Sandy, says wife
Walbridge, 63, and deckhand Claudene Christian, 42, were swept overboard and didn't make it to the life-rafts.
Christian was located by an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter on Monday evening and taken to Albemarle Hospital in Elizabeth City, N.C., where she was pronounced dead.
CBC News spoke to Claudene Christian's mother on Monday morning as the rescue efforts began in the Atlantic Ocean. She said her daughter was "truly and genuinely happy" and had called before the journey "just in case she went down with the ship."
Christian was a descendant of Fletcher Christian, the master's mate who seized control of the original Bounty during Capt. William Bligh's voyage in 1789.
That story was turned into a 1962 movie starring Marlon Brando — Mutiny on the Bounty — for which the replica was built and launched in Lunenburg, N.S., in 1960. The ship has also appeared in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest starring Johnny Depp.
The Facebook page of HMS Bounty called the ship sailing in Hurricane Sandy a "calculated decision" and said "a ship is safer at sea than in port."
Claudia McCann, Walbridge's wife, told CBC News her husband was trying to get around Hurricane Sandy en route to Florida.
Tracie Simonin, the president of the HMS Bounty Organization, told CBC News the organization is standing behind Walbridge's decision to sail the vessel during the hurricane.
"We have the utmost confidence in Captain Walbridge and his abilities. He's been with the ship for over 20 years and we all — as a crew, as an organization — trust his judgment and we stand behind the decision that was made," she told CBC News on Tuesday.
"He loved [the Bounty] as if it were his own and he took care of it and kept it going the way that it was. We're proud of all of our crew members."
Anxious hours for father
The father of the youngest member of the ship's crew said he had several anxious hours as he waited for word about his daughter, 20-year-old Anna Sprague.
Larry Sprague said he was first notified something was wrong at 7:30 a.m. when he received a call at his home in Savannah, Georgia. At 10 a.m., he answered the phone and heard his daughter's voice.
"She was just real reluctant or unable to talk extensively when we first communicated right after she got off the helicopter, which is sort of unlike her," he said.
Sprague told CBC News Anna Sprague had just left the rescue helicopter when she called home. Her father said some of the details are still unclear.
"What she did tell me is that they had prepared to abandon ship," he said, adding that the entire crew put on their survival suits.
"The ship took an unexpected roll. I thought what she told me was that everybody had been dumped into the water. She had to swim toward the life-raft. It's still not inflated, and I was unclear if she was kind of hanging on to the line, or part of the life-raft until it inflates."
Sprague said his daughter is doing well, and her mother has gone to bring her home.