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Dead crew woman on sunken HMS Bounty claimed ancestry to mutineer

The HMS Bounty, a 180-foot sailboat, is shown submerged in the Atlantic Ocean during Hurricane Sandy approximately 90 miles (145 km) southea
The HMS Bounty, a 180-foot sailboat, is shown submerged in the Atlantic Ocean during Hurricane Sandy approximately 90 miles (145 km) southea

By Harriet McLeod

(Reuters) - The crew member who died when the replica ship HMS Bounty sank during Hurricane Sandy had written on her Facebook page that she was a descendent of the original Bounty mutineer Fletcher Christian.

Claudene Christian, 42, was pulled from the sea and hoisted aboard a Coast Guard helicopter on Monday afternoon. She was taken to Albemarle Hospital in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, where she was pronounced dead.

Coast Guard rescue swimmers plucked 14 other crew members from life rafts in the Atlantic Ocean on Monday and brought them safely ashore by helicopter. The Coast Guard was still searching for the ship's captain.

The 16-member crew donned orange neoprene survival suits and life jackets and abandoned the replica tall ship about 90 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, after it began taking on water and lost power.

Christian and the missing captain, Robin Walbridge, 63, were washed overboard before they could make it onto the rafts.

The three-masted, 180-foot (55-meter) ship, built for the 1962 movie, "Mutiny on the Bounty," sank. It was on its way from New London, Connecticut, to its winter berth in St. Petersburg, Florida, and was about 160 miles from the eye of the hurricane when it foundered.

The original Bounty, a British transport 'square rigger', gained infamy for a mutiny in Tahiti in 1789. Marlon Brando starred as lead mutineer Fletcher Christian in the movie for which the ship was built.

Claudene Christian wrote on her Facebook page that she was descended from him and that she lived and worked aboard the ship and taught people about its history.

"As a descendent of Fletcher Christian, played in four movies by Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Marlon Brando & Mel Gibson, I'm sure my ancestor would be proud," she wrote on her page.

Genealogist Janice Sellers, who writes the blog Ancestral Discoveries, said she knew Claudene Christian when they were students at the University of Southern California, and that Christian had said she was the fifth great-granddaughter of the sailor who led the mutiny against Captain William Bligh.

She said Christian's interest in her heritage had led her to join the replica ship's crew in May.

Reuters could not reach the ship's operators for comment. The Red Cross, which arranged hotel accommodations for the surviving crew members, said they had declined an interview request.

"We want to thank the USCG for their bravery and risking their lives to save ours," the Bounty organization said on the ship's Facebook page.

The Coast Guard said the water temperature was a relatively warm 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 Celsius) in the area where crews were searching for Walbridge, but that there were still 15-foot (4.6-meter) waves and strong winds.

Walbridge worked on the Bounty for 17 years, said his wife, Claudia McCann, when contacted by telephone at the couple's home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

"That was his passion," McCann said. "He's the best captain in the industry. ... There's not too many captains that can sail that kind of ship."

She said she was confident he would have been the last to leave the ship, honoring his role as captain,

"That's the image I have in my head. I'm sure he made sure his crew were all tucked in their life boats before he got off the ship," McCann said.

(Additional reporting by Gene Cherry; Writing by Jane Sutton; Editing by David Adams and David Brunnstrom)

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