PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) - The sinking of the HMS Bounty is the focus of a federal hearing in Portsmouth.
The tall ship capsized off the coast of Hatteras during Hurricane Sandy. Two crew members died, but 14 others were rescued by the Coast Guard.
The ship's chief mate testified at a Coast Guard hearing Tuesday, saying Captain Robin Walbridge did not heed warnings and made a conscious decision to navigate across the top of the storm.
"I said, 'I believe we should abandon ship,'" said John Svendsen, the Bounty's chief mate. "And, he said, 'No, I think we got a lot more time.'"
In the end, timing was the downfall of the HMS Bounty. Her voyage began in Boothbay Harbor, Maine and ended in the waters off Cape Hatteras.
Coast Guard investigators showed an interactive map in Tuesday's hearing that outlined the Bounty's track, showing where it met with hurricane force winds and rain.
Sandy proved to be stronger than the will of the 17-year captain who went down with the ship. Investigators confirm Captain Walbridge, once told a television station that he and the Bounty "chased hurricanes."
Investigators asked Svendsen if he believes the Bounty was chasing Hurricane Sandy.
"Not in my opinion," he said.
But Svendsen does not deny Walbridge was an adventurous man who did not heed repeated warnings to steer a different course. It was only in the Bounty's final minutes, when the first mate begged him to abandon ship, that Walbridge finally agreed. But, it was too late.
"When the ship rolled over, it threw everybody into the water," said Svendsen.
Svendsen testified he swam for three hours until a C-130 and Coast Guard personnel came to the rescue.
"I had a bruised and damaged face, neck trauma, broken bones in my hand and other arm injuries," said Svendsen. "I had chest and abdomen trauma and a twisted knee."
Svendsen also testified that Walbridge gave the crew the option to leave the ship at an earlier port, but they all decided to stay.
Testimony revealed the ship's generators failed and the fuel tank was punctured. The Bounty took on a significant amount of water and had pumps working continuously in up to 30-foot waves and 50 mph winds.
The purpose of this hearing is for Coast Guard investigators to determine exactly what happened, identify any misconduct and make recommendations to prevent similar events in the future.
The findings from Portsmouth will be submitted to the Department of Justice, as part of a much broader investigation.
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