The California Air National Guard commander who took the initial call about a family stranded at sea with a sick infant said his crews "got there just in time."
While the family's decision to take two young children on an around-the-world sailing trip has been criticized in the wake of last week's dramatic rescue, Lt. Col. Nando Polo told NBC 7 that the parents of 1-year-old Lyra Kaufman "did everything right" once they realized the seriousness of the situation.
Polo, who is with the 129th Rescue Wing, was the operations commander who took the initial call concerning the Kaufmans after the family with San Diego roots ran into trouble off the coast of Mexico.
After the little girl’s symptoms - diarrhea, vomiting and rash – were evaluated by a flight surgeon, it was determined crews should immediately launch the rescue attempt, Polo said.
The intervention was something his crews have done many times before for marine merchants and fishermen but never for a baby; Polo said he’s never seen anything like this in his 30-year career.
Once the guardsmen got to the sailboat, Polo said it was apparent that, given the seriousness of the situation, his crews had gotten there just in time.
The family returned to San Diego around 10 a.m. Wednesday, Navy officials confirmed.
The Kaufman's two-year voyage of bringing babies to sea has ignited a national debate over their parenting decisions. The topic even made it to the front page of the New York Times.
As for the criticism the parents face from people across the country, Polo said the Kaufmans did everything right when they realized the baby needed medical attention.
“I understand what it means to be a parent," he said. "I’m also a surfer and I have been in situations where things have not gone right in the ocean.”
On Thursday, Lyra Kaufman fell seriously ill just as the family’s boat, the Rebel Heart, lost its communication and steering abilities.
Thursday night, the California Air National Guard dropped four pararescuemen from a plane into the ocean. Those men climbed aboard the Rebel Heart to stabilize Lyra.
Navy frigate USS Vandegrift reached the boat two days later, and Sunday morning, the Kaufmans boarded the rescue ship.
The child was back in San Diego Wednesday and headed to her family physician, according to Navy officials.