(Updates with statement from the family)
By Victoria Cavaliere
April 7 (Reuters) - Rescuers plucked a seriously ill American baby girl and her family from a sailboat in the Pacific Ocean on Sunday and transferred them to a U.S. Navy frigate that will take them back to California, the U.S Coast Guard said.
The family was put into an inflatable raft then helped aboard the USS Vandegrift, which arrived early on Sunday to rescue them from their crippled sailboat about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) off Mexico's Pacific coast, the Coast Guard said.
The San Diego family was two weeks into a cruise around the world on a 36-foot (11-meter) vessel called the Rebel Heart when the youngest child developed a fever and rash, prompting her parents to send a satellite distress call to the Coast Guard on Thursday.
Eric and Charlotte Kaufman and their daughters, Cora, 3, and Lyra, 1, were in stable condition and would undergo further medical evaluations, the Coast Guard said in a statement. The frigate was en route to California and the voyage was expected to take a day or two.
In a statement, the Kaufmans defended their decision to take their children on the trip.
"We understand there are those who question our decision to sail with our family, but please know that this is how our family has lived for seven years, and 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," the statement said.
The California Air National Guard's 129th Rescue Wing dispatched a military transport plane and a team of four men on Thursday to provide immediate medical assistance to Lyra, according to spokesman Second Lieutenant Roderick Bersamina.
The rescuers, laden with medical gear and other supplies, parachuted from the plane into the ocean, 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.
The rescuers then remained on the sailboat with the family while they waited for the Navy ship to arrive.
"We are very thankful to be safe and well," the Kaufmans said. "We also appreciate all the concern, thoughts and prayers ... for our daughter Lyra. She is doing well now, and her medical condition continues to improve."
The Kaufman family departed from Mexico on March 19, sailing toward islands in the South Pacific and planning to reach New Zealand eventually, according to www.therebelheart.com, where they have been writing about their sometimes-stormy voyage.
Eric Kaufman describes himself as a licensed U.S. Coast Guard captain and certified dive master.
In a post on her blog on March 26th, one week into the journey, Charlotte Kaufman said the endeavor was proving difficult.
"I think this may be the stupidest thing we have ever done," she wrote. "Why did we pick such a hard way of traveling? Stupid."
There were no plans to sink the stranded sailboat, Charlotte's sister, Sariah English, said in a message posted on Facebook. Instead it would be tagged and left behind.
Search and rescue missions are typically paid for by the Coast Guard, said Lieutenant Dixon, who added she could not comment on whether this rescue would be different. (Additional reporting by Kevin Gray in Miami; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Raissa Kasolowsky, Paul Simao and Eric Walsh)