Stranded Family With Sick Baby Defends Rescue

USS Vandegrift contacted the sailboat around 4 p.m. Saturday 900 miles from land

A San Diego family that was rescued by the U.S. Navy after their sailboat became stranded hundreds of miles off the Mexico coast with a sick 1-year-old baby on board is defending the decision to travel the seas with young children.

Two weeks ago, Eric and Charlotte Kaufman and their daughters, 1-year-old Lyra and 3-year-old Cora, set sail on a new leg of their around-the-world journey.

But Thursday, they sent out a satellite distress call, saying Lyra had become violently sick. On top of that, their boat had lost its steering and communication abilities.

In a large coordinated effort, the California Air National Guard’s 129th Rescue Wing worked with the Navy to send four pararescuemen, who jumped from a plane into the ocean and climbed aboard the Rebel Heart boat to treat Lyra.

By Saturday, they said the baby’s condition had stabilized while they waited for further transportation from the USS Vandegrift, their rescuing ship.

According to a Facebook post from Charlotte’s sister, Sariah English, the Navy frigate made contact with the family just after 4 p.m. Saturday.

USS Vandegrift stayed about five miles from the boat through Saturday night as its crew planned how to get the family off the boat.

"The bottom line is the safety and security of not only the family members that are on board, but also of all the personnel that are involved to save the infant. That is paramount," said 2nd Lt. Roderick Bersamina with the 129th Rescue Wing.

Around 8 a.m., Vandegrift sailors used an inflatable boat to bring the infant, family and the four pararescumen aboard the Navy ship. 

All were in stable condition, the Coast Guard announced Sunday.

"We are proud of our choices and our preparation, and while we are disappointed that we lost our sailboat and our home, we remain grateful for those who came to our aid and those family and friends who continue to encourage and support us," Eric and Charlotte wrote in a statement issued from the Vandegrift.

The family reportedly was given one trip to get their things off the boat – as much as they can carry -- before sailors sunk the Rebel Heart in the ocean, according to a Facebook update English posted Sunday evening. 

She said the Kaufmans will be taken via helicopter to San Diego, where they are expected to arrive Tuesday morning.

Navy Commander Charlie Brown said they are more than 1,000 miles from the city -- the same distance as San Diego to Houston.

The couple's decision to live with two young daughters on a 36-foot boat has raised questions about their maritime lifestyle.

Among their strongest critics is Charlotte's brother, James Moriset.

 "It is crazy. It is nuts. My thoughts about it were -- bringing kids on a trip like that and then having the second one along the way and bringing a younger kid along on the trip, it was just -- I do feel very firmly that yes, that was crazy," said Moriset. 

But the Kaufmans defended their choice in their statement released Sunday: 

"First, we would like to express how grateful we are to the men and women of the Coast Guard, California Air National Guard and Navy who rescued our family, especially the pararescuemen and crew of USS Vandegrift. We are very thankful to be safe and well. We also appreciate all the concern, thoughts and prayers of everyone back home for the health of our daughter Lyra. She is doing well now, and her medical condition continues to improve.

"We understand there are those who question our decision to sail with our family, but please know that this is how our family has lived for seven years, and when we departed on this journey more than a year ago, we were then and remain today confident that we prepared as well as any sailing crew could. The ocean is one of the greatest forces of nature, and it always has the potential to overcome those who live on or near it. We are proud of our choices and our preparation, and while we are disappointed that we lost our sailboat and our home, we remain grateful for those who came to our aid and those family and friends who continue to encourage and support us. Thank you."

It’s unclear what caused Lyra to fall ill. English said she had diarrhea, fevers, a large rash and had been vomiting.

In a post on her blog, Charlotte had said on March 11 that both she and Lyra had tested positive for salmonella.

Officials have not announced where they are taking the baby to be treated.

English flew into San Diego Sunday to await their return. 

"I am going between crying and jumping up and down. I'm really excited for that moment," said English. 

She told NBC 7 that Charlotte and Eric requested to stay at a Navy base hotel and then travel to New Mexico, where English lives.

Because the family will have to abandon most of their possessions, English is working with friends in San Diego to collect donations to give the Kaufmans when they arrive.

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