Shipmate of the Week – Rescuers of the HMS Bounty

Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Bob Papp, Vice Adm. John Currier, vice commandant of the Coast Guard and Capt. Joseph Kelly, commanding officer of Air Station Elizabeth City, with the aircrews and operation specialist who were directly involved in the HMS Bounty crew rescue. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd class David Weydert.

Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Bob Papp, Vice Adm. John Currier, vice commandant of the Coast Guard and Capt. Joseph Kelly, commanding officer of Air Station Elizabeth City, with the aircrews and operation specialist who were directly involved in the HMS Bounty crew rescue. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd class David Weydert.

As Hurricane Sandy approached land, the HMS Bounty and 16 sailors aboard were in dire need of help. More than 90 miles off the coast of Hatteras, N.C., the three-masted sailing vessel had lost power and was taking on water in an area mariners call the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” for its infamously treacherous seas. With its pumps failing, the Bounty’s crew was forced to abandon ship. Adrift in two liferafts they were powerless against the raging seas.

As this scene played out late Sunday evening, Sandy’s winds were in excess of 60 knots and an HC-130J Hercules airplane from Air Station Elizabeth City was launched. Needless to say, the aircrew encountered significant turbulence and after flying through bands of the storm, they arrived on scene.

The Hercules was the first sign of salvation for Bounty’s survivors and the aircraft kept watch over the adrift sailors through the night deploying flares, additional liferafts and a self-locating datum marker buoy, a device that helps the Coast Guard measure surface currents to aid in the search for survivors.

The HMS Bounty, a 180-foot sailboat, shown submerged in the Atlantic Ocean during Hurricane Sandy approximately 90 miles southeast of Hatteras, N.C. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tim Kuklewski.

The HMS Bounty, a 180-foot sailboat, shown submerged in the Atlantic Ocean during Hurricane Sandy approximately 90 miles southeast of Hatteras, N.C. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tim Kuklewski.

As the Hercules stood sentry, Elizabeth City launched rescue helicopter CG6012, piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Steve Cerveny, to begin rescue operations. Wearing night vision goggles, the helicopter raced to the scene amidst heavy rain and powerful winds. They had to fly low, at about 300 feet, to stay below the clouds and arrived on scene just after sunrise Monday morning.

It didn’t take long before they spotted a survivor in the water, adrift and alone. The survivor was wearing an insulated suit and co-pilot Lt. Jane Pena spotted the strobe lights attached to it. Before they could hoist the sailor to the safety of the helicopter’s cabin, the aircrew had to overcome the challenge of safely deploying their swimmer and rescue basket amidst Sandy’s fury.

“The biggest challenge was the wind and the waves,” recalled Petty Officer 3rd Class Mike Lufkin. “During the recovery of the survivors from the liferaft, we tried adding weight bags in the basket to make it more manageable in the wind, but once the basket hit the water, it sunk.”

After trying a few different methods their teamwork persevered and soon Petty Officer 2nd Class Randy Haba, the crew’s rescue swimmer, was pulling people out of the liferaft and bringing them safely aboard the Jayhawk helicopter. Pena recalls looking out at this point and seeing another strobe in the distance. It was the sunken ship, with only its three masts sticking out.

With the crew of the CG6012 focused on getting the survivors out of one liferaft, rescue helicopter CG6031 arrived on scene ready to rescue survivors from the second liferaft. Pilot Lt. Cmdr. Steve Bonn is no stranger to harrowing rescues. He flew in some of the toughest conditions Mother Nature can conjure as a rescue pilot in Alaska. But despite his experience, he was still stunned as he witnessed 30-foot waves literally breaking over the top of the liferafts when he arrived on scene.

Bonn didn’t take time to dwell on the sheer enormity of the seas. CG6031 had an hour to conduct the rescue so they could make it back to their airbase without running out of fuel. He piloted the helicopter above the second liferaft, about a mile way from the first. Inside, the survivors were huddled together, cold and weary.

HMS Bounty lifeboat

Click image to view video of the rescue.  A Coast Guard rescue swimmer approaches on of two lifeboats where the crew of HMS Bounty sought shelter after abandoning ship. Screenshot from U.S. Coast Guard video.

Cue rescue swimmer Petty Officer 3rd Class Dan Todd. Todd swam to the raft and in a particularly calm, candid moment greeted the survivors with, “Hi I’m Dan, I heard you guys need a ride.”

“When we show up, it’s the worst day of these survivor’s lives, using an ice-breaker like that helps them relax knowing that we’re in control, and that this is just another day for us,” said Todd. “It was good that we got to go help people. We were just doing the job.”

While Todd was getting tossed around in the seas – what he describes as feeling like being in a washing machine – Petty Officer 1st Class Gregory Moulder literally held the safety of his swimmer and the survivors in his hands as he operated the helicopter’s winch. As the rescue took place, Moulder was focused on keeping Todd and the survivors as steady as possible and his shoulder was taking the force of each wave. At one point during the rescue he tells his fellow crew he probably threw his shoulder out, in the most matter-of-fact way possible.

“Well, my shoulder hurt like hell…I didn’t dislocate it, but I probably strained my shoulder and elbow stopping the basket from swinging in the high winds,” said Moulder.

The hurricane-force winds generated seas that left no room for error, a fact all involved were reminded of through the omnipresence of a single word, repeated over and over again – “altitude.” Co-pilot Lt. Jenny Fields explains the warning heard repeatedly throughout the cabin and in the cockpit is part of a safety system that uses radio waves and timing to measure the distance between the bottom of the helicopter and the surface of the water. Despite how distracting the warning may sound to the casual observer, Fields processed the warning but remained solely focused on keeping the helicopter steady.

“The difficulty is not necessarily flying so low; but maintaining position with the liferaft and rescue swimmer in the water,” said Fields. “The wind and waves were constantly pushing the targets through the water, so it was a lot of work for the pilots at the controls in the helicopters to stay in position.”

At the conclusion of “just another day” for the Coast Guard aircrews, 14 survivors were headed home to their loved ones … but the search continued for two remaining members of the crew.

Subsequent aircrafts were sent out and Coast Guard Cutters Elm and Gallatin were diverted to the scene in search of the two missing sailors. One would be recovered seven nautical miles from the vessel’s original reported position unresponsive. Several days later the search would be suspended for the remaining crewmember. Suspending a search and rescue case is one of the hardest decisions Coast Guard men and women have to make, but ultimately – after searching more than 90 hours and covering 12,000 overlapping square nautical miles in the Atlantic Ocean since the Bounty’s crew abandoned ship – the search for Bounty’s captain, Robin Walbridge was called off.

The search and rescue operation to save the crew of HMS Bounty has already become one of the enduring images of Hurricane Sandy, but for 14 men and women who called Bounty home and the families of the two who have not returned it will be the bravery of the rescue crews who willingly put themselves in harm’s way to save those in peril that will last a lifetime.

Crewmembers from Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, N.C., assist one of the sailors from the tall ship HMS Bounty. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Zach Huff.

Crewmembers from Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, N.C., assist one of the sailors from the tall ship HMS Bounty. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Zach Huff.

Do you know a Shipmate that has done something great for the service, the missions or the public? Please submit your nominations using the “Submit Ideas” link on the right.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/john.e.harris John Edward Harris

    As a recreational sailor, and an American, I appreciate your service.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rhondaroni.waller Rhonda Roni Connell Waller

    AWESOME story and so thankful for the service of each and every one of you! Bravo Zulu!

  • Roland Proulx

    Awesome! You guys and gals are true professionals. You are the best at what you do! Thank you for your service.

  • Jayne M. Serrin

    We are thankful for your service here on Cape Ann, Rockport, MA <3

  • Jan Goodhue

    As a mother of an active duty coastguardswoman, and the spouse of a just retired HSCM both corps men I am very proud of the crews of the rescue helo’s. The Coast Guard, the unsung hero’s of the military services! you have done more with less for a very long time. Congratulations!! Job well done!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1367456012 Monica Sanders Stange

    I am so thankful for this rescue. Thank you to each and every one of you from the depths of my heart. Is it possible to get a copy of the digital file of the photo above?

  • LT S. M. Young

    Monica,

    Thanks for reading and your support! You can find the image at:

    Very Respectfully,
    Lt. Stephanie Young
    Coast Guard Public Affairs

  • Alex Gruenberg

    It’s astonishing to think a rescue like that, so far out to sea and in such conditions is even possible. Endless praises to the Coast Guard!

  • Kathryn Baxter

    To all of the crew:

    I have sailed the North Atlantic from Maine to Venezuela many times. I have been off this spot very close, in a front moving through Cape Hatteras on my vessel. It gives you great respect for the power of the sea, the depth of the ocean shortening up so quickly, and the fronts moving so quickly and violently. I was there in June sailing North to Martha’s Vineyard.

    It is different with an approaching hurricane. But this part of the ocean has gained its great respect for sailors. Thank you to the brave people watching out for us sailors, passing by… I will always be eternally grateful to you and your famillies watching out for us, and coming to our aid when we need it.

  • Darleen najera

    My sisters good friend was on that ship, so thankful for what you folks do to risk your lives for others. Amazing work. Thank you. God bless

  • seashell

    This is the first video I’ve ever seen of a rescue. The training, professionalism and courage shown during the rescue is outstanding and beyond mere descriptive words. Well done and thank you from a member of the public and new fan of the USCG.

  • Ken

    In my eyes, what all these combined crews do, will always be worth the cost of the man power and equipment! There are 14 people who are here today if not for you! Thank You! Thank you for your service protecting us!

  • http://www.facebook.com/calle.ring Calle Ring

    Stephanie,

    I could not find the pictures.Can you give me an idea how to find them.

    Sincerely,,

    Carl Ring

    sailing ship captain

  • LT S. M. Young

    No problem, Carl. Are you Looking for the group photo of the rescuers or of the HMS Bounty?

    The Bounty photo:

    The rescuers photo:

    Very Respectfully,
    Lt. Stephanie Young
    Coast Guard Public Affairs

  • http://www.facebook.com/linda.jensen.3344 Linda Jensen

    My admiration for the Coasties knows no bounds.

  • http://www.facebook.com/debbie.hamblen.79 Debbie Hamblen

    Thank you for your dedicated service. One of the shipmates is very dear to me and I’m so very blessed she is with us today. May God Bless and Keep you safe.

  • James Charlet

    As a direct predecessor of today’s Coast Guard, we are EXTREMELY PROUD to be associated with the Coast Guard in general and with THIS crew in particular. They continue the noble tradition of “saving lives in peril from the seas, so others may live”

    Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station

  • john fursdon

    Under conditions such as these I think the helicopter crews were heroic.
    You have my sincere admiration. thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tonyalupton Tonya Pace Lupton

    I am still in awe of the men and women of the Coast Guard. Being a spouse of a 30 year Coast Guard C130 aviation veteran, and the mom of one of the C130J crew members of this rescue, the pride I feel is overwelming. It takes a large team of coasties to make these rescues possible. Keep up the wonderful work!

  • http://www.facebook.com/ginny.hewitt.9 Ginny Hewitt

    As the mother of one of the survivors, my family and I cannot thank you enough for the outstanding work you did – in the most adverse of conditions! My family and I are so grateful to you that we still have Jessica with us! The crew was planning an orderly evacuation of the ship, but unfortunately, the ship rolled and they were all thrown into the water. She and the 13 other survivors were very fortunate to survive the sinking. Jess was floating with several other survivors, unable to make it to the one life raft that was inflated before it blew away from them. Then they spotted an uninflated life raft canister and were able to open it and eventually, with great effort in their waterlogged immersion suits, they were able to pull themselves in. My sister learned last night from a facebook discussion with a crew member from the C130 that they had dropped a number of life raft canisters when they saw the ship roll and the crew members in the water. I’m not sure my daughter is even aware of that the life raft wasn’t one from the Bounty. Without that life raft, those 5 survivors would have all been dispersed, which would have made locating and rescuing them in time that much more difficult, and the outcome could have been drastically different. Please extend our heartfelt appreciation to all the Coast Guard personnel involved in this rescue. We know you put yourselves in harm’s way to do it and we are so impressed with your skill and professionalism. Thank you again!

  • Karie

    I have a few hours in helicopter (the SO was a CFI) and I have SAR experience. And Some boating experience. We live near Groton (where the ship came from and where Coast Guard Academy is) and I remember this replica when it was fairly new at Gasparilla festival. I saw tracked this when it was first reported and was amazed you managed only 1 soul lost, (sail on, Captain) All I can say is You guys RULE! Very dangerous, very difficult, and you gays were incredible! So all those bitching about government spending. This is government worth paying for! Thanks you, thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Semper Paratus