It took three federal agencies, a fixed-wing aircraft, a Navy warship, and scores of personnel (including four California Air National Guard members who parachuted into the water and swam to the boat) to rescue an ill baby girl and her family from their broken down sailboat 900 miles off the Mexican coast. But the San Diego couple will not have to repay the federal government for the dramatic evacuation at sea, the agencies said yesterday. The Navy, Coast Guard, and California Air National Guard 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," says Lt. Anna Dixon of the 11th Coast Guard District, which oversaw the operation. She says helping at sea is a time-honored tradition and a requirement of international maritime convention. A California Air National Guard spokesman adds that crews improve their skills every time they carry out a rescue operation and that above all, "you can't put a price on a life, and there's no discrimination of who you save." The cost of the total operation is not known yet. The Kaufman family defended their trip in a statement this week. (Read more sailing stories.)