McIntosh put the plane in a quick descent as his crew rushed around the open hold, reconfiguring the ramp for a life-raft drop as rain pelted in. Within minutes, however, the plane hit its bingo-fuel level, the moment when any aircraft must turn around. They dropped the rafts and headed back, not knowing if anyone had made it off the ship alive.
At least 14 did, but they were fighting to survive. When the vessel capsized, it rolled sharply onto its starboard side, sending the crew and everything on deck—including the emergency drybags—tumbling into the sea. Svendsen, who’d been on the radio with the Coast Guard, was the last off the vessel; he broke his right arm and cut up his face as he crashed into the rigging on the way down.
The wind was blowing 50 knots and gusting higher. The sea was chaos. Its force pulled the Bounty’s masts 20 feet out of the water before slamming the rigging—and the tangled crew—back down. Josh Scornavacchi estimates that he was dragged 15 feet underwater. Barksdale says he was trapped underwater multiple times.
“That was the scariest part,” he says. “I didn’t know if I was going to make it or not, but I did know that I needed to get the hell away from that ship.”
No one saw Christian or Walbridge.
Eventually, 13 survivors found each other in the water, searching for the ship’s floating life-raft canisters. Six congregated around a thick piece of oak grating, including the injured Prokosh, who was clipped onto the grating with a climbing harness. Through the surf, Dan Cleveland managed to spy one of the white lines attached to the Bounty’s raft canisters; after it deployed, they eased Prokosh inside and joined him. The raft was taking on water, and they couldn’t find a bailer among its supplies.
Nearby, the seven other crew were struggling, too, and in no time the two rafts were more than a mile apart. Somewhere between them, Svendsen bobbed alone in the waves, clutching a five-gallon tub Walbridge had jury-rigged into a kind of rescue beacon.
More than an hour later, the first Jayhawk helicopter arrived. The much watched Coast Guard video shows the heroic and methodical rescue: the calm voice of co-pilot Jenny Fields as she counts wave intervals, swimmer Dan Todd plunging over and over into the angry sea, rescuing first Svendsen and then those in the first raft; flight mechanic Neil Moulder manning the rescue basket and then announcing that he’d dislocated his shoulder. What the video doesn’t show is Moulder slamming his shoulder against the chopper’s open door, trying to get it back in its socket. Nor does it reveal the full extent of this initial recovery—four aircraft and 22 rescuers—and the massive operation that followed. Before it was all over, the Coast Guard would search the Atlantic for 90 hours, covering 12,000 overlapping square nautical miles.