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HMS Bounty: Woman killed in tall ship's sinking loved the sea

She was bright, vivacious and in love with with her ship, the HMS Bounty.

Claudene Christian, the former USC song girl who died at sea Monday when the tall ship on which she was sailing sank off the North Carolina coast amid Hurricane Sandy’s fierce winds and churning waves, had expressed her elation about her seafaring adventures via Twitter.

“My new home 4 a few yrs! So excited!” she tweeted on May 15, three days after announcing she was joining the Bounty crew for a 21-port sail down the East Coast from Nova Scotia. The three-masted ship was featured in the 1962 film “Mutiny on the Bounty” and two of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films. 

PHOTOS: Sandy hammers much of the East Coast

Over the next two months, Christian sent photos and tweets from ship festivities in New York, a dock in Annapolis, Md., a tall ship festival in Rhode Island. “I am in LOVE with my ship..." she tweeted June 23.

Christian, 42, was one of 16 crew members caught in the deadly storm. Fourteen were plucked from lifeboats and rescued Monday by U.S. Coast Guard rescue crews, who were still searching for the ship’s captain, 63-year-old Robin Walbridge.

Christian was not in a lifeboat when rescue crews found her unresponsive 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.

VIDEOS: East Coast hit by deadly storm

The petite, blond-haired Christian grew up in Alaska and was crowned Miss Alaska National Teenager in 1987 and Miss Alaska American Coed in 1988, according to the Anchorage Daily News. According to her LinkedIn profile, Christian attended USC from 1988 to 1992 and was the founder of the Cheerleaders Doll Co., was a partner at the now-defunct Dragon Bar in Hermosa Beach and promotions manager at Churchill Downs Inc. / Hollywood Park.

Christian had lived in Vian, Okla., for about year before joining the Bounty crew, according to an interview with her aunt, Patricia Saulsberry, by KOFR-TV in Oklahoma City.

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 book and films “Mutiny on the Bounty” were based. She said she was a descendant of Fletcher Christian, the master’s mate on the ship who led the mutiny and seized command of the ship from William Bligh during a voyage to Tahiti in 1789.

MAP: Hurricane Sandy barrels in

The ship’s 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.

A post on the page Sunday said Walbridge intended to avoid the storm by sailing east on its 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, 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.”

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

PHOTOS: Massive U.S. storms -- Frankenstorm, Snowpocalypse and more

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 rescued 14 crew members in lifeboats, wearing cold weather survival suits and life jackets.

"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," they added.

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--Teresa Watanabe

 
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