SEATTLE - A pilot from Pierce County was at the controls of a Coast Guard helicopter that rescued five people off the historic ship HMS Bounty as it sank in Hurricane Sandy.
The HMS Bounty last visited Puget Sound in 2008, part of the Tacoma tall ships festival. But its ties to our area date back to 1962, when the Bounty visited Seattle, Victoria and Vancouver, B.C. as part of a world tour to promote the movie, “Mutiny on the Bounty.” That was also the year of the Seattle World’s Fair.
This was not the original Bounty, that ship was lost to history back in the 18th century. The Bounty of the movies was a motorized replica, and continued to play a starring role in “Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Man’s Chest.”
But for U.S. Coast Guard rescue helicopter pilot Lt. Jane Pena, the Bounty provides another northwest connection to the famous replica. Pena grew up in University Place near Tacoma and is a history graduate from the University of Washington. She was there when the call came in early Monday morning of a vessel in trouble with Hurricane Sandy.
“We hear HMS Bounty sailboat, and I thought somebody named the boat after the famous mutiny," said Pena.
But soon she learned the vessel was 180 feet long and sinking, and was the stuff of those history classes. One hundred miles off the North Carolina coast, she would meet the Bounty first hand.
“The ship was still there," she said, as the hull was hovering just below the heaving surface of the ocean. “The masts were still sticking out of the water.”
It was a big step for the young pilot, her first hurricane, and her first large scale rescue. Her fellow pilot had 20 years experience, and she says this was still a rescue for the record books.
As they came onto the scene it was still dark. They plucked one Bounty crew member out of the ocean as he floated in his survival suit. Then they rescued five more survivors who made it into a life raft.
Daylight came. They then swept the area looking for more survivors until they hit their limits on fuel after an hour and 20 minutes on station, then had to fly back home to Elizabeth City.
A second helicopter picked up nine other survivors. One Bounty crewmember was found dead, and Captain Robin Walbridge is still missing.