SAN DIEGO — The guided-missile frigate Vandegrift returned here Wednesday with 15 officers, 190 enlisted sailors and a sick baby named Lyra.
The 1-year-old’s rescue from her family’s crippled sailboat hundreds of miles out at sea was accomplished by a joint effort of the Coast Guard, California Air National Guard, and, finally, the Navy, which redirected the Vandegrift from its training mission off Southern California.
Eric and Charlotte Kaufman and their two daughters — Lyra and 3-year-old Cora — disembarked at the Naval Air Station North Island when the ship docked to take on ordnance for an upcoming anti-drug-smuggling deployment off South America.
The Kaufmans had faced criticism for taking their children on what was planned as a yearlong around-the-world sailing voyage.
After stopping at North Island, the Vandegrift was set to sail Wednesday afternoon across San Diego Bay to its home port at the 32nd Street Naval Station, where a news conference was planned with rescuers.
Lyra’s condition has stabilized, officials said. If needed, the Vandegrift could have airlifted the child to a hospital in San Diego once the family was brought aboard Sunday morning.
On the Vandegrift, Lyra was under the care of the ship’s two Navy corpsmen and the four rescue specialists from the California Air National Guard 129th Rescue Wing who had parachuted into the water to reach the sailboat Thursday night.
The child had been suffering a high temperature, diarrhea and a severe rash when her parents made a distress call Thursday to the Coast Guard as their 36-foot sailboat boat, Rebel Heart, was drifting powerlessly about 1,000 miles from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
The decision to take Lyra and Cora on such a lengthy and arduous journey has subjected the Kaufmans to widespread criticism online.
In response, the Kaufmans, once aboard the Vandegrift, issued a statement defending their decision: “ … 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 would.”
The Kaufmans lived in San Diego until moving a year ago to Mexico, where Lyra was born.
Eric Kaufman, a Navy veteran, works in the financial services industry and had become dissatisfied, according to his blog, with the “house-car-job-complex with its nine-to-five office routine.” Charlotte Kaufman is a writer and former high school teacher.
Eric Kaufman wrote on his blog about the preparation for the trip: “We’ve finally started reading about the islands from Polynesia to Tonga that we’re planning on checking out: it’s been a boost to our spirits to realize that we’re not just crossing 3,000 miles of water for … grins. There is indeed, hopefully, a warm light at the end of the tunnel that involves a pleasant anchorage and some type of rum-based beverage.”
He also wrote about taking Cora on sailboat trips between San Diego and Santa Catalina Island where Cora “rode out a gale in that run, twice, when she was 3 months old.”
In her blog, Charlotte Kaufman mentioned taking both children to a doctor before the family set sail. Lyra had testified positive for salmonella, she wrote.
Lyra “is currently taking three types of antibiotics and a steroid, to battle bronchitis and a bacterial upper respiratory infection,” she wrote days before beginning the trip.
By late Thursday, after a six-hour flight, four para-rescuers from the California Air National Guard in Northern California had parachuted into the water near the sailboat and climbed aboard to provide emergency care for Lyra. Her condition quickly improved, officials said.
Many of the 17 personnel on the MC-130 Combat Shadow aircraft were veterans of combat zone deployments. The pilot, Maj. Mike Wagle, has deployed to Iraq, the Horn of Africa and numerous hurricanes, but had never been assigned to rescue a baby on the high seas.
The mission, which encountered dense clouds and choppy waves, was good training for the newer personnel and a morale boost for all of them, Wagle said by telephone.
“When you hear that it’s a 1-year-old baby that needs help, it definitely gives you greater energy, greater incentive,” Wagle said. “You couldn’t ask for better real-world training and a better result.”
The assignment had some unique aspects. As they packed their medical bag, the Guard personnel made sure to have plenty of Pedialyte, a common product for children to replenish minerals lost through diarrhea and vomiting.
Some online commenters said the Kaufmans should be charged for the cost of the rescue. But military officials said that rescues at sea are part of a long tradition among mariners and also are required by international maritime agreements.
Charlotte Kaufman’s brother, James Moriset, termed as crazy the parents’ decision to take two small children on such a trip.
“I saw this coming,” Moriset told KNSD-NBC7. “I saw the potential for every bit of it. I’m just glad they’re alive and my little niece is being taken care of, which is cool.”