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USS Vandegrift's No. 2 officer comments on family's sailboat rescue

The Kaufman family disembarks the guided-missile frigate USS Vandegrift in San Diego on Wednesday, April 9, 2014, after their rescue at sea 3 days earlier. A joint effort of the Coast Guard, California Air National Guard and Navy brought home the family's sick 1-year-old girl, Lyra.

SAN DIEGO — Under persistent questioning from reporters, the executive officer of the Navy ship that rescued a family off its disabled sailboat 1,000 miles off Mexico said he would not have brought his own children on a similar trip.

"For one thing, I don't own a sailboat," said Lt. Cmdr. Daryl Robbin, a 26-year U.S. Navy veteran. "For another, I know how big the ocean is."

Robbin was addressing reporters Wednesday after the arrival of the guided-missile frigate USS Vandegrift.

The ship rescued Eric and Charlotte Kaufman and their two daughters — Lyra, a 1-year-old who fell ill on the family sailboat, and 3-year-old Cora. The family was aboard the crippled 36-foot sailboat, Rebel Heart, about 1,000 miles off Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Lyra had been suffering from a high temperature, diarrhea and a severe rash when her parents made a distress call last week to the Coast Guard, setting the rescue into motion.

The decision to take Lyra and Cora on such a lengthy and arduous journey has subjected the Kaufmans — who did not meet with the group of reporters gathered at the port Wednesday — to widespread criticism online.

Robbin and other Vandegrift crew members declined to assess whether the Kaufmans had made an unwise decision to take their children on such a voyage. Only when asked what he would have done as a parent did Robbin respond.

Once aboard the Navy ship Sunday, the Kaufmans 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 could."

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."

Kaufman wrote on his blog about the preparation for a trip around the world: “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.”

In her blog, Charlotte Kaufman mentioned taking both children to a doctor before the family set sail. Lyra had tested 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.

Since being rescued, Lyra's condition has stabilized, officials said. If it had been 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 four rescue specialists from the California Air National Guard 129th Rescue Wing, who had parachuted into the water to reach the sailboat the night of April 3.

Cmdr. Luis Alva, the Vandegrift's skipper, said crew members fashioned baby food and a crib for Lyra and clothing for both girls. He said he also escorted the family on a tour of the Vandegrift, which was on a training mission when it was redirected to rescue the Kaufmans.

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