Coast Guard rescue swimmer Randy Haba helped pluck several crew members from a 25-foot rubber life raft. He was also lowered to a crew member floating in the water alone. Haba wrapped a strap around the member's body and raised him to the chopper.
"It's one of the biggest seas I've ever been in," Haba said. "It was huge out there."
The HMS Bounty, built for the classic film Mutiny on the Bounty and featured in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, left Connecticut last week, en route to St. Petersburg, Fla. It visited Philadelphia in June.
"They were staying in constant contact with the National Hurricane Center," said Tracie Simonin, the director of the HMS Bounty Organization. "They were trying to make it around the storm."
The Coast Guard received a distress call late Sunday from the 180-foot, three-mast ship. About 8 a.m., a helicopter had located the sinking ship, its masts partly underwater, and most of the crew, who had gotten into 25-foot rubber life rafts.
Amid winds of 40 m.p.h. and 18-foot seas, rescuers were able to save most of the crew from the life boats about 90 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Brandyn Hill said.
Those rescued were taken to Elizabeth City. Most of the crew were in their 30s, although one man appeared to be in his 70s, Coast Guard officials said.
The mother of one of the crew members said she had talked to her daughter after the rescue. Mary Ellen Sprague said her 20-year-old daughter, Anna Sprague, had been aboard the HMS Bounty since May. The ship had traveled to London, then to St. Petersburg, Fla., and was going to spend the winter in Galveston, Texas.
Days before it sank, the vessel had rerouted to avoid the brunt of Sandy. However, a statement on its website acknowledged, "This will be a tough voyage for Bounty," the Tampa Bay Times reported.
The ship was permanently docked in St. Petersburg for many decades. In 1986, it was bought by Ted Turner, and in 2001, it was purchased by its current owner, New York businessman Robert Hansen.
About 10 years ago, the ship underwent a multimillion-dollar restoration.