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Former Alaskan swept from HMS Bounty becomes victim of Hurricane Sandy

Ben Anderson
NWS photo

A former Alaskan and West High School graduate died Monday after being swept from the tall ship replica HMS Bounty, which sank in high seas as Hurricane Sandy beat a path toward the U.S. East Coast. Fourteen others were rescued from the ship's lifeboats, after the three-masted vessel was thrashed by high seas and winds caused by Hurricane Sandy, pounding the U.S. East Coast Monday. The captain of the ship was still missing Monday evening.

According to Arkansas television station KFSM, 42-year-old Claudene Christian was one of the crewmembers missing after the ship sank almost 100 miles from the North Carolina coastline. On Monday afternoon, rescuers in a Coast Guard helicopter pulled her body from the water, but she was reported as being "unresponsive." She was taken to a hospital in Elizabeth City, N.C., where she was pronounced dead.

Christian and her family have ties to Alaska, though her parents now live in Vian, Okla., according to KFSM. 

In 1987, Christian, then 16, was crowned Miss Alaska National Teen-ager in a beauty pageant held in Anchorage. She was a senior at West Anchorage High School at the time, according to an Anchorage Daily News article, and was involved in gymnastics, cheerleading and student government.

Christian also founded the Cheerleader Doll Company in 1988, while a student at the University of Southern California, which replicates cheerleading squads from universities around the country.

Christian joined the crew of the replica 180-foot sailing ship HMS Bounty earlier this year, according to a post in May from her Twitter account.

"My new home 4 a few years!" Christian wrote of her move to Wilmington, N.C. to join the crew. "So excited!" 

The Bounty, a replica vessel built for the 1962 movie starring Marlon Brando, sank in 18-foot seas accompanied by 40 mph winds, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Two Coast Guard helicopters reached the two drifting lifeboats at about 6:30 a.m., and were able to recover 14 of the 16 reported crew members who had been aboard the Bounty.

Reuters reports that all of the ship's 16 occupants were wearing cold-weather survival suits as they were boarding the lifeboats, but three people were washed overboard. Only one of those washed overboard was able to get safely into a lifeboat. The search was continuing for the other missing crew member, 63-year-old Robin Walbridge.

Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com