Family rescued at sea says satellite cell phone service provider left them in a life-or-death crisis

SAN DIEGO - The family that drew national attention when they were rescued at sea off their sailboat, Rebel Heart, in April is finally setting the record straight. 

Charlotte and Eric Kaufman and their two daughters were about 1,000 miles west of Cabo San Lucas in the Sea of Cortez when 1-year old Lyra became sick. That was when their adventure of a lifetime turned into a nightmare.

It began with a fever, then a rash and then Lyra became lethargic. That was when the couple used their satellite cell phone to call a doctor. He advised them to begin treating Lyra with the antibiotics they had stored in the sailboat's well-stocked medical locker.

When the antibiotics did not work, Eric Kaufman, an experienced sailor, called the U.S. Coast Guard. The Coast Guard told him to keep the satellite phone on and said they would consult with a pediatrician and call them back. The call never came.

Kaufman noticed the phone was showing a SIM card error. He tried everything to restart the phone. He soon realized they were "in a really dangerous spot."

He said he had no choice but to activate the sailboat's emergency beacon.

"We've left the land of this is an adventurous trip with the family, and we've gotten into this is life and death now," he said.

Within 12 hours, paramedics had been airlifted to a spot near the Rebel Heart. It turned out all Lyra needed were more antibiotics. 

But it was too late for their sailboat, which had been the Kaufmans' home for eight years. As the family boarded the USS Vandegrift, Eric Kaufman did what was necessary to sink the Rebel Heart.

They returned to San Diego amid criticism about whether it was safe to take two small children on the open sea.

"I think a lot of people think we grabbed a six-pack of beer and hopped in a boat and headed to Tahiti, fates be damned, let’s do it, and that wasn't the case at all," said Eric Kaufman, who added that every safety measure was well thought-out. Everything but the satellite cell phone, which the Kaufman's say had been deactivated by their provider, Whenever Communications, LLC.

"I think the evidence clearly represents that they did what they did and that was the action that ultimately started a chain of events," said Eric Kaufman. His wife added that the satellite cell phone company's recklessness led to the family losing their home.

"Our home is gone, and I have friends who are sailing oceans right now, who are on their sailboats, out adventuring and I don't ever want this to happen to anyone else," said Charlotte Kaufman.

The couple will file a civil lawsuit against the satellite phone provider later this week. Attorney Dan Gilleon says they should not only compensate the Kaufmans for their loss, but should also re-pay the federal government for the expensive military rescue at sea.

"The at-fault party here was that satellite phone company," Gilleon said. "The Kaufmans did everything they were supposed to have done."

In spite of what happened, the Kaufmans say they plan to travel the world with their kids again, as soon as they get a new sailboat.

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