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HMS Bounty: Investigation Into Fatal Sinking

A federal safety panel is opening a hearing into the fatal mystery of a replica 18th-century tall ship that sailed into the path of Hurricane Sandy.

HMS Bounty sank off North Carolina during the storm last year.

Crew member Claudene Christian, 42, was pulled from the water on October 29 - hours after the historic ship went down in the storm.

Ms Christian, who lived and sailed on the ship, was taken to hospital in a critical condition but was later pronounced dead.

The Coast Guard used a C-130 plane and two cutter ships during a search for the Bounty's captain, Robin Walbridge.

They had hoped the 63-year-old from Florida had been able to survive in the relatively mild 25C (77F) waters of the Atlantic, about 90 miles off Cape Hatteras.

Mr Walbridge's body has never been found.

Testimony at the safety panel is due to begins on Tuesday in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Investigators with the US Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board expect it to last more than a week.

It will hear from the 14 surviving crew members rescued from the stricken Bounty, which was about 160 miles from the hurricane's centre.

The captain had ordered his crew to abandon ship early on October 29 after the vessel lost power and started to take on water.

Rescuers said the crew had put on cold water survival suits and life-jackets before launching in two 25-man lifeboats with in-built canopies.

Evidence is also expected from people from the shipyard where the Bounty underwent repairs just weeks before sinking.

It will also hear from captains of similar ships that stayed in port as the hurricane churned up the East Coast.

When the Bounty first foundered in the storm the hull was underwater but the square-rigged masts could still be seen from rescue aircraft.

However pounding swells eventually made the ship, which had been used in many movie dramas, sink from sight.