HMS Bounty captain search enters 4th day

U.S. Coast Guard officials say the search for the captain of the Nova Scotia-built replica tall ship HMS Bounty is still active, despite the man being in the Atlantic Ocean for more than three days.

Robin Walbridge has been missing since Monday morning, when the crew of HMS Bounty decided to abandon ship in high seas brought on by Hurricane Sandy off the coast of North Carolina. Walbridge didn't make it to a life-raft with the rest of his crew.

Lt. Michael Patterson, a spokesman for the U.S Coast Guard, told CBC News that Walbridge is still in the realm of "functional survivability."

"This is still an active search," he said Thursday.

"This is not a recovery operation; this is still a live search and rescue operation. We are searching with the intent of bringing a survivor home."

According to the surviving crew members of HMS Bounty, Walbridge was wearing a survival suit, which could increase his odds of survival.

The 16 crew members of the vessel decided to abandon ship after getting caught in 5.5-metre seas about 320 kilometres southeast of Hatteras, N.C.

The Bounty sank several hours after the evacuation.

As the crew members scrambled to get to covered life-rafts, three of them — including Walbridge, 63, and deckhand Claudene Christian, 42 — were washed overboard.

Walbridge has not been seen since. Christian's body was recovered from the seas on Monday.

The third person who was washed overboard made it to a life-raft and was among the 14 people hoisted onto helicopters and taken to shore.

Thousands of square kilometres searched

Patterson said a Hercules C-130 aircraft was launched at first light on Thursday to continue the search, and the Coast Guard cutter Gallatin has been searching the ocean all overnight.

He said the fact that Walbridge was wearing a survival suit — a large rubber suit designed to keep the wearer dry and warm even in frigid water — plays into the "equation of survivability."

"The other factors include factors as basic as a person's will to live. Their strength as a swimmer, whether they were able to make it to debris or life-rafts," Patterson said.

"At some point, time alone will dictate whether or not we can reasonably expect this to continue to be a live rescue operation."

U.S. Coast Guard officials said conditions on the ocean were getting better with each passing day. Thursday brought 26 C water temperatures and 16.6 C air temperatures, along with 27 knot winds and 1.2 metre waves.

Searchers have scoured thousands of square kilometres of ocean since the rescue effort began on Monday.

"The sheer area of what we're covering makes it challenging," Patterson said.

The replica of HMS Bounty, which launched in Lunenburg in 1960, was made famous in a 1962 movie starring Marlon Brando — Mutiny on the Bounty. It has also appeared in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest starring Johnny Depp.