U.S. Navy ship reaches sailboat carrying sick baby

by Reuters
Sunday, 6 April 2014 13:34 GMT

By Victoria Cavaliere

April 6 (Reuters) - A U.S. Navy frigate reached a sailboat in the Pacific Ocean on Sunday and were preparing to rescue a seriously ill 1-year-old girl and her family, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The USS Vandegrift and its crew "would determine the best possible course of action" for rescuing the family from the crippled sailboat about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) off Mexico's Pacific coast, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Barry Bena.

Because of weather and other factors, Bena said he could not estimate how long it would take to transfer Eric and Charlotte Kaufman and their daughters Cora, 3, and Lyra, 1, back to the U.S. mainland in California.

The Kaufman family, from San Diego, were on a cruise around the world on a 36-foot (11-meter) vessel called the Rebel Heart when the youngest child fell seriously ill with a fever and rash, prompting her parents to send a satellite distress call to the U.S. Coast Guard on Thursday.

The California Air National Guard's 129th Rescue Wing dispatched a military transport plane from their base at Moffett Federal Airfield near San Francisco on Thursday to check on the family and provide immediate medical assistance, said spokesman Second Lieutenant Roderick Bersamina.

Four men, laden with medical gear and other supplies, parachuted from the plane into the ocean, inflated a dinghy, motored toward the boat and boarded to treat the girl.

"They took it upon themselves to do whatever necessary to save her life," Bersamina said.

The child's ailment was not confirmed but her condition has stabilized, he said.

"The family is in good spirits and very thankful for the pararescuemen who are on board," he said. "Granted, it is cramped quarters."

The family had sailed from Mexico on March 19 toward islands in the South Pacific and eventually New Zealand, according to therebelheart.com, where they have been writing about their sometimes stormy voyage.

Kaufman writes on his blog that he is a licensed USCG captain and certified divemaster.

The Air National Guard had also deployed two rescue helicopters and two rescue planes that were on standby on Saturday in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, in case a rapid air evacuation is necessary, Bersamina said.

The four pararescuemen will remain on board with the family in the meantime. "They will not leave the family until the infant is in the care of a doctor," Bersamina said.

The California Air National Guard is part of the state's militia. Its primary mission is rescuing military personnel during wartime, but has been involved in scores of rescue missions involving civilians in distress, whether out at sea or lost in the mountains, Bersamina said. (Reporting By Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Raissa Kasolowsky)

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