The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search for Captain Robin Walbridge of St. Petersburg Thursday and opened an investigation into the loss of ship, the HMS Bounty.
The replica tallship was headed for a last appearance at the St. Petersburg Pier when she ran into Hurricane Sandy and foundered off the coast of North Carolina. Fourteen crew members were rescued Monday and a 15th person was recovered Tuesday, but did not survive.
No trace of Walbridge was discovered.
"In this case, it was only after four days and 10,000 square miles of search patterns that we ultimately made the decision that we needed to curtail operations," Lt. Michael Patterson said in an interview from Portsmouth, Virginia.
He added that the ship, which had been partially visible, has now completely disappeared under the surface.
"We have been unable to relocate the vessel, which is likely indicative of the vessel having sank," he said.
Two images of the Bounty, mostly submerged, were taken by a Coast Guard air crewman shortly before she apparently sank. Lt. Patterson said the water at that location is 13,000 feet deep.
The spokesman also explained the official investigation is "...to identify the cause of the accident and contributing factors..." and to look for "transferable lessons" for other sailors of tallships.
Any salvage of the vessel would be the responsibility of the ship's owner, but would also have high value for the Coast Guard.
"Not having that vessel located and referencable for the purposes of the investigation also makes it a little bit more difficult to piece together that narrative of what exactly happened," Lt. Patterson said.
The HMS Bounty was built in 1960 for the motion picture "Mutiny On The Bounty" and was used in several other Hollywood productions. She was much larger than the original HMS Bounty, which was commandeered by her crew in 1790. Apart from size, the modern Bounty was considered a true representation of 18th century sailing ships.
After "Mutiny On The Bounty" was made, the ship harbored in St. Petersburg for many years. Last month, the operators of the Bounty proposed a final, brief visit to the St. Petersburg Pier, which is scheduled for demolition next summer. If she had made it through Hurricane Sandy, the Bounty would have been open to the public in St. Petersburg next week.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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