The sea-rescue mission that saved a sick infant carries one hefty pricetag

 

It was undoubtedly frightening.

Californians Charlotte and Eric Kaufman, along with their two daughters, Cora, 3, and Lyra, 1, were on the latest leg of a trip around the world last week when their youngest came down with a high fever, diarrhea and a severe rash. At the same time, the family’s sailboat, the 36-foot Rebel Heart, lost steering and communication abilities in the Pacific Ocean.

So, the family called for help.

Four para-rescuers from the California Air National Guard last Thursday parachuted into the water, boarded an inflatable raft and set out to tend to the sick infant.

The USS Vandegrift joined the scene on Sunday. The ship picked up the family and four rescuers, then set its sights back on the San Diego shore.

After a weeklong rescue, the ship made it home Wednesday, carrying 15 officers, 190 enlisted sailors and one exhausted family.

The joint U.S. Navy, Coast Guard and California Air National Guard mission cost taxpayers about $663,000, according to calculations from U-T San Diego.

That figure is reportedly based on the use of a Navy frigate and four California Air National Guard aircraft, but military officials said the family is not expected to foot the bill.

“We don’t want people in trouble at sea to hesitate to call for help for fear they’ll be charged for assistance,” said Lt. Anna Dixon of the 11th Coast Guard District.

Those man-hours were already budgeted for training, officials said. And the mission served as training for the para-rescue team, a California National Guard spokesman said.

“You can’t make exercises like this up,” Lt. Col. Thomas Keegan told U-T San Diego. “That’s what I think is lost in this.”

U-T San Diego came up with a National Guard pricetag of $447,000. The Navy estimate is at least $216,000.

Neither figure includes staffing costs since the Navy and National Guard salaries would have been paid regardless, the newspaper said.

The newspaper reported:

U-T San Diego compiled the cost figures from a National Guard estimate of the flight hours involved, plus a Defense Department reimbursement schedule for the two kinds of aircraft used, two MC-130P Combat Shadow planes and two HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters. (Reimbursements are based on who used the service, such as type of federal or other agency. For this computation, a midpoint figure was chosen.)

The couple has taken heat for their decision to set sail with a baby and a 3-year-old. On Thursday, Eric Kaufman made a statement on the family blog, thanking the rescuers.

It reads in part:

First, we would like to express our profound gratitude for the 129th Rescue Wing of the California Air National Guard. These people are true heroes, along with Commander Alva and the crew of the USS Vandegrift. We will remember them forever.

We have been happy with the maritime life we have been able to share with our daughters. Even as we write this, several other boats are crossing the same stretch of water that Rebel Heart was on, with families who seek to show their children the world. Children have been sailing on boats for a long time, and the modern cruising family dates back several decades.

To our supporters and those who also seek an adventurous path with their families, we thank you for your kind words and support. From professional rescuers, professional sailors, and other families at sea we have been buoyed by your warmth and kindness. For those who are more critical, we ask that you kindly await all the details. There have been many inaccuracies reported through various media related to our daughter’s health, the vessels’ condition, and our overall maritime situation.

The sailboat, which had been the family’s home for years, had to be sunk because it was taking on water. They were only able to save a few of their belongings.

Lindsey Bever is a national news reporter for The Washington Post. She writes for the Morning Mix news blog. Tweet her: @lindseybever
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