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No plans to charge family for sea rescue of baby

Federal agencies say no plans to charge family with ill baby for rescue off Mexican coast

Posted on April 8, 2014 at 2:12 p.m.

SAN DIEGO (AP) — None of the three federal agencies that helped rescue an ill 1-year-old girl and her family from their broken down sailboat about 900 miles off Mexico’s Pacific coast plan to seek reimbursement for the cost of the operation.

Officials from the Navy, Coast Guard and California Air National Guard said Tuesday they don’t charge for search-and-rescue missions.

“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, which oversaw the operation but did not send vessels or aircraft to the stranded sailboat.

She said that helping at sea is a time-honored tradition and a requirement of international maritime convention.

The Navy warship that picked up the family on Sunday is expected to reach San Diego on Wednesday.

The three agencies helped rescue the Kaufman family from the inoperable vessel after they sent a call for help Thursday. The San Diego couple, Charlotte and Eric Kaufman, and their two daughters, 1-year-old Lyra and 3-year-old Cora, were on a voyage around the world when their sailboat, the Rebel Heart, lost its steering and communication abilities and Lyra fell ill.

The family was heading across the Pacific when Lyra started showing salmonella-like symptoms, said her aunt Sariah English, who was in regular email contact with her sister, Charlotte Kaufman. The baby suffered from vomiting, diarrhea and fever and was not responding to antibiotics.

Responding to the call, four Air National Guard members parachuted into the water and reached the sailboat Thursday night 900 miles southwest of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The crew stabilized the girl, stayed by her side and then boarded the USS Vandegrift with the family when the Navy ship arrived Sunday.

The cost of the total operation, involving scores of personnel, is not known yet.

The family lived on their sailboat for seven years before the rescue crews sank it Sunday at sea.

Eric Kaufman, a Coast Guard-licensed captain, and his wife, Charlotte, issued a statement after boarding the Vandegrift, defending their decision to sail around the world with their children, saying, “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.”

Steve Ellis, a former Coast Guard officer and vice president of the Washington-based nonprofit Taxpayers for Common Sense, said the question of reimbursement for a rescue operation often arises for those seen as putting themselves into a risky situation.

“You do recognize there is a potential risk of loss of life if you do require repayment, but then you look at some of these cases and think ‘Gee, what an idiot. They should be paying,‘” he said. “I mean in my mind, who takes a 1-year-old sailing? You can’t even explain to the kid how to avoid being seasick.”


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