Rescue teams continued the search Tuesday for the missing captain of the HMS Bounty as friends mourned the death of Claudene Christian, the former Hermosa Beach resident who died when the ship sank.

"It's tragic, she was only 42," said Joe Middler of Manhattan Beach. "Too young to die."

Fourteen of the 16 crew members were rescued early Monday when they were plucked from life rafts and hoisted into helicopters.

Survivors told the Coast Guard that three crew members were swept overboard during the initial predawn crisis as they prepared to abandon ship. One of those was able to swim to a life raft while the other two - Christian and Capt. Robin Waldridge, 63, of Florida, who remains missing - never made it into the inflatable saucer-like boats.

Crew member Claudene Christian is seen on HMS Bounty in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia on Friday, Aug. 3, 2012.  The U.S. Coast Guard used ships and airplanes to
Crew member Claudene Christian is seen on HMS Bounty in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia on Friday, Aug. 3, 2012. The U.S. Coast Guard used ships and airplanes to search the Atlantic on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 for Robin Walbridge, 63, the captain of the sunken HMS Bounty. When rescuers found missing crew member Claudene Christian on Monday, she was unresponsive. She was later declared dead. Christian said she was a descendant of Fletcher Christian, who led the mutiny on the original HMS Bounty in April 1789. (The Associated Press / The Canadian Press, Halifax Chronicle Herald, Peter Parsons)

Christian was found unresponsive in the water late Monday, about 8 nautical miles from the site where the historic replica wooden ship went down 90 miles off the coast of North Carolina.

Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Brandyn Hill said rescue teams remain "absolutely" hopeful that the captain will be found alive.

A Coast Guard cutter was scheduled to continue searching through Tuesday night, with air units to take over at sunrise Wednesday, he said.

"The fact that he was wearing a survival suit greatly increases his chances to survive," Hill said Tuesday in a telephone interview from the Coast Guard headquarters in Virginia.

"It's a bright orange color that makes it easier to locate a person in the water," Hill said. "The suits also have reflective tape and they generally have a strobe light attached to them."

Walbridge's wife was waiting at the couple's St. Petersburg home on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

"He's been in many storms," Claudia McCann told the news agency in a telephone interview. "He's been doing this a good portion of his life. He's been in lots of hairy situations and he's very familiar with the boat. Same boat for 17 years, he knows it like the back of his hand.

"

Christian also was wearing one of the protective suits. She was taken by helicopter to a hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Middler first met Christian in the 1990s, when he and his band, Joe's Band, were playing at local night spots in the South Bay.

She was a regular in the audience and when the band lost its singer, Christian auditioned for the role, going on to sing with the group from 1993 to 1996.

"We had a great time. ... She was a 5-foot-2 stick of dynamite," Middler said of the blond former USC song girl, who also started her own business manufacturing "cheerleading dolls."

"She was always the life of the party," he said.

Middler, who last talked to her four to six months ago, said he was surprised when she joined the crew of the HMS Bounty.

"That's a pretty tough gig, it's a hard life," Middler said. "So I was surprised."

But Christian - who said on her Facebook page that she was a descendent of Fletcher Christian from the original Bounty that sailed the seas in the 18th century - was thrilled with the prospect.

With a background in promotions, she was hoping to use her skills to help publicize the floating historical museum ship.

While she lived in Hermosa Beach for several years following college, Christian apparently had moved to Oklahoma, where her parents also live, a couple years ago.

The HMS Bounty is one of dozens of replica tall ships patterned after the world's tall-masted vessels of yesteryear. They gather for festivals and make stops in ports around the world, educating and entertaining members of the public who come on board for tours or special sails.

The Bounty, which had a starring role in the 1962 film "Mutiny on the Bounty" and also has appeared in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, was headed from New London, Conn., to St. Petersburg, when it was snagged by the edge of Hurricane Sandy. The captain had reported he would be heading east on the trip, which began Saturday, in hopes of skirting around the huge weather system.

But after two days in rough seas, he realized his journey would be more difficult. 

"I think we are going to be into this for several days," Walbridge said in a message posted on the vessel's Facebook site. "We are just going to keep trying to go east."

His wife last heard from him in an email sent Saturday that told her not to worry.

"He said, 'It's going to be fine,"' she told The Associated Press. "He said they were prepared. ... He was just watching to see what the hurricane was going to do."

Hill said any other details about the ship's plans will have to come later from either the captain or the crew members. The Coast Guard will conduct an investigation into exactly what happened, he said.

The ship's original call to the Coast Guard came in Sunday at 8:45 p.m. Eastern time, Hill said. An air unit was dispatched, arriving at midnight, and established communications with the vessel, he said.

But at the time the ship was not in distress. As it began taking on water in 18-foot waves through the early morning hours, however, the engines and generators shut down, effectively disabling the vessel and putting the crew in imminent danger.

Waldridge sent out the order to abandon ship while sending an emergency call to the Coast Guard. Crew members began entering life rafts at 4:30 a.m. The Coast Guard arrived by 6:30 and began rescuing survivors from the life rafts. The rescues were captured in a video later posted online on the agency's website.

"The crews that are deployed are trained professionals," Hill said. "Going out and conducting a search-and-rescue case on a normal day, with day-to-day weather, is difficult. But doing it in hurricane-force conditions makes it all that more dangerous."

The survivors reached land via rescue helicopters by around 10:30 a.m., Hill said, and an unconscious Christian was recovered late in the afternoon.

Eventually, he added, there could be some attempts to salvage the vessel. "But I certainly couldn't speculate on its condition ... or on what damages it may have sustained," he said.

An aerial photo taken Monday showed the HMS Bounty going down into the roiling seas, with only its masts still visible on the surface.

There has been lively debate since the rescue over whether the captain made the right decision in taking the HMS Bounty out to sea with the hurricane approaching.

"It's certainly all over Facebook," said Ed Steiner of San Pedro, a longtime volunteer with the Los Angeles Maritime Institute's tall ships program.

Until the Coast Guard can fully investigate what happened, though, Steiner said it's best that people not speculate.

Steiner has met Walbridge - captain of the Bounty for 17 years - a few times in the past but said he did not know him well.

"They've got 14 trained and capable deck hands to interview," Steiner said of the upcoming investigation into what happened. "The Coast Guard will determine (what happened) for the purposes of mitigating future accidents.

"It's probably just a set of circumstances that couldn't be helped," Steiner said.

And while the ship may look primitive, it has proven its seaworthiness over and over again, he said.

"I've seen the Bounty going up the coast here from a clifftop north of San Francisco and the thing was pitching up 30 degrees and down 30 degrees - it was just doing fine," he said. "She's been around the world."

Crews also are well-trained, Steiner said. Crewing on a tall ship, he said, attracts people from all walks of life who are looking for adventure and for something new.

"Most of them are fascinated, in every sense of the word, by what they're doing, by the vessels and by the vessels' mission and the history they represent," he said.

Steiner was among those chosen to sail the tall ship Irving Johnson, based in Los Angeles harbor, from Hawaii to Northern California, a voyage that lasted 18 days.

"We were out there rockin' and rollin'," he said.

Steiner, who said he "escaped" managing large computer systems in the corporate world some years ago, remembered thinking at the time, "If I died doing this, it would be better than a whole lot of alternatives.

"I think that's what you find with so many of these folks," Steiner said. "It sounds trite, but it's another world."


Contact Donna via email or follow her on Twitter at @donnalittlejohn

The Associated Press contributed to this article.