(Adds details from Navy and Air National Guard officials in paragraphs 8, 11-12)
By Marty Graham
SAN DIEGO, April 9 (Reuters) - A family of four rescued from their sailboat after their infant daughter became seriously ill at sea returned safely to San Diego on Wednesday aboard a U.S. warship that picked them up in the Pacific over the weekend, a Navy spokeswoman said.
The parents, Eric and Charlotte Kaufman, and their two daughters, 3-year-old Cora and 1-year-old Lyra, left the Navy frigate Vandegrift after the ship arrived in port around 10 a.m. local time and were taken to see their family doctor, according to Lieutenant Lenaya Rotklein of the Third Fleet.
Rotklein declined to give any further information about the arrival of the Kaufmans at Naval Air Station North Island on San Diego Bay except to say all four family members were "stable when they departed" and were met at the port by relatives.
The Kaufmans, whose boat was their home but are from San Diego, did not speak to reporters on their arrival.
The family was two weeks into a planned around-the-world cruise on their 36-foot (11-metre) sloop when Lyra developed a fever and rash, prompting her parents to send a distress call to the Coast Guard by satellite phone last Thursday.
In addition to the child falling ill, the family reported that their boat, christened the Rebel Heart, took on water whenever they tried to start the vessel's engine, the Coast Guard said.
A four-man rescue team from the California Air National Guard was dispatched by military plane to the scene, about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) out in the Pacific off Mexico, to render medical assistance. The team parachuted into the ocean and boarded the family's vessel late on Thursday to treat the child.
The rescuers then remained on the sailboat with the family until the Vandegrift, which had been conducting routine operations off the Southern California coast, arrived on Sunday to take all four Kaufmans aboard for a return voyage.
The Kaufmans' crippled sailboat, listing badly and considered a navigation hazard, was scuttled by the father himself, who cut holes in the vessel and then watched it sink after he was taken off the yacht on Monday morning, Navy officials said.
News of the family's plight generated considerable online chatter about whether the parents had exercised poor judgment in embarking on a round-the-globe sailing voyage with an infant and a toddler.
Defending their decision to set sail with their young children, Eric Kaufman issued a statement from sea on Sunday saying, "This is how our family has lived for seven years. ... We remain confident that we prepared as well as any sailing crew could."
Lieutenant Colonel Nando Polo of the Air National Guard said the father approached him after the family arrived in port and "basically apologized for putting us through all this."
"I told him he did fine, and he doesn't owe anyone an apology," Polo said. "Even when things went wrong for him, he made all the right decisions. He saved his family." (Reporting by Marty Graham; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Jonathan Oatis and Ken Wills)