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Former USC song girl dies as tall ship Bounty sinks in Sandy

October 30, 2012 |  9:57 am

A former USC song girl died at sea when the tall ship she was aboard sank off the North Carolina coast under Sandy’s ferocious winds and high waves.

Claudene Christian, 42, was a crew member of the HMS Bounty, a three-masted ship featured in the 1962 film “Mutiny on the Bounty” and two of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. She was one of 16 crew members, 14 of whom were plucked from lifeboats and rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard Monday. Coast Guard officials were still searching for the ship’s captain, 63-year-old Robin Walbridge.

Christian, a USC song girl in the 1990s, was not in a lifeboat and was unresponsive when rescue crews found her at 4:30 a.m. Monday, according to Petty Officer 1st Class Brandyn Hill. She was taken by helicopter to a North Carolina hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

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A post Sunday to the ill-fated ship’s Facebook page said Walbridge intended to avoid the storm by sailing to the east on the ship's voyage from Connecticut to Florida. “So far so good!” the post said. “Bounty has now positioned herself to pass on the west side of Hurricane Sandy.”

In his last post Sunday, however, Walbridge said: “I think we are going to be into this for several days … We are just going to keep trying to go fast and squeeze by the storm and land as fast as we can.”

The ship sent out a distress call to its owners at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, saying it had lost power and that pumps were unable to keep up with water filling the hull. The ship’s owners contacted the Coast Guard, which sent out a search aircraft to the ship about 90 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras -– an area known as “the Graveyard of the Atlantic.”

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By 4:30 a.m. Monday, the post said, Walbridge ordered all hands to abandon the sinking ship.

The Coast Guard said two rescue helicopters arrived about 6:30 a.m. as the ship was sinking in 18-foot seas accompanied by 40-mph winds. Air crews found and rescued the 14 crew members who were in lifeboats in cold weather survival suits and life jackets.

The Facebook page featured sharp debate over whether the crew had responsibly sailed through the storm, with one reader castigating an effort to solicit donations through a relief fund that has been set up.

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On her Facebook page, Christian said she had joined the Bounty crew to share the history of the ship, a replica of the 18th century British vessel that was the center of events on which the “Mutiny on the Bounty” was based. She said she was a descendent of Fletcher Christian, the master’s mate on the ship who led the mutiny and seized command of the ship from William Bligh during the voyage to Tahiti in 1789.

Christian was the owner of Cheerleader Doll Co.

 "The USC Song Girl Family is deeply saddened by the loss of one of our former Song Girls, Claudene Christian," the coaches of the USC Song Girls said in a statement. "As a USC Song Girl, Claudene will always be remembered for her energetic and bubbly personality on an off the field." 

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-- Teresa Watanabe

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