By Jonathan Allen
(Reuters) - An American family that had been sailing across the Pacific Ocean for several weeks was the focus of a U.S. military rescue mission on Saturday after their 1-year-old daughter became severely ill, officials said.
Eric and Charlotte Kaufman, along with their daughters Cora, 3, and 1-year-old Lyra 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.
The family sent out a distress call by satellite from their boat, named Rebel Heart, on Thursday about 1,000 miles off Mexico's Pacific coast.
That prompted a team from the California Air National Guard's 129th Rescue Wing to fly out to sea in a military transport plane from their base at Moffett Federal Airfield near San Francisco, said spokesman Second Lieutenant Roderick Bersamina.
Four men, laden with medical gear and other supplies, were able to parachute from the plane into the ocean. They 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. He could not confirm the nature of her ailment, but said she had been treated and was stable.
"The family is in good spirits and very thankful for the pararescuemen who are onboard," he said. "Granted, it is cramped quarters."
The rescue team also found problems with the 36-foot (11-meter) boat's steering and communication systems, he said.
The Vandegrift, a U.S. Navy frigate carrying a helicopter and a crew of 200, left San Diego on Friday and was expected to reach the Rebel Heart late on Saturday night, according to Bersamina and a Navy spokeswoman.
A decision about how to get the family back to dry land will be made once the frigate arrives, assuming the baby's health remains stable, Bersamina said.
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 onboard 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 Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)