SAN DIEGO – A U.S. Navy warship reached a crippled sailboat hundreds of miles off the Mexican coast and was preparing Sunday to complete the rescue of a sick 1-year-old girl.
The transfer of the child from the 36-foot boat to the ship was expected to start around dawn, Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Barry Bena said Sunday.
“Sometime this morning as soon as they get some light they are going to take the child off the boat and bring her aboard the naval vessel,” Bena told The Associated Press.
A small boat will be used to carry out the operation and it will be safer during daylight, especially since the child’s condition has stabilized, the spokesman said.
The girl’s family – parents and a 3-year-old sister – were about 900 miles off Mexico on a cruise around the world when they sent a satellite ping for help to the U.S. Coast Guard on Thursday about her illness.
A family member said the Rebel Heart is owned by a San Diego couple, Charlotte and Eric Kaufman, whose daughter, Lyra, had developed a fever and a rash covering most of her body and who wasn’t responding to medications.
The California Air National Guard dispatched four rescuers, who parachuted into the water and reached the disabled vessel. The team was able to stabilize the girl and pointed the sailboat, which does not have steering or communication abilities, toward Mexico, the 129th Rescue Wing said in a statement.
The rescuers stayed aboard the Rebel Heart and are keeping watch on the ill child until the Navy frigate transfers them to shore. The girl still requires medical treatment, and the rescuers planned to stay with her until she reaches a hospital, the statement said.
USS Vandegrift churned through the Pacific at nearly 30 mph to reach the stricken boat, officials said. Bena said he wasn’t sure if it arrived late Saturday or early Sunday.
The Vandegrift is equipped with an inflatable boat and a helicopter, but no decision has been made yet about the mode of transfer until officials can evaluate the sea conditions and other factors, said Lt. Lenaya Rotklein of the U.S. Third Fleet.
The Kaufmans, along with Lyra and 3-year-old Cora, were two weeks into a journey bound for the South Pacific islands and eventually New Zealand.
Before the family left, Lyra had salmonella poisoning, but doctors cleared her to travel after she was healthy again, said Charlotte Kaufman’s sister, Sariah Kay English.
English initially was in daily email contact with the family but realized something was wrong when the communication stopped several days ago.
English said she was told the vessel took on water every time the motor was turned on. It’s now slowly moving using only the sails.
When her sister first mentioned plans to sail with two young children, English recalled, “I thought it was nuts.”
But English said the couple were always careful. Eric Kaufman is a Coast Guard-licensed captain who introduced sailing to Charlotte Kaufman during one of their early dates.
“They were not going into this blind. I knew they were doing this wisely,” English said.
English said the couple made a network of friends who traveled around the globe with children and always stocked the sailboat with more food than they need.
“They were very overcautious. They’re not new at sailing,” English said. Unfortunately, “sickness sometimes happens.”