Two children were rescued Friday from a sailboat that was stolen by their father, who is accused of abducting them from their mother's home in Central California, authorities said.
After a long day of tracking a sailboat believed to be involved in a Bay Area abduction case, the United States Coast Guard recovered two children from South San Francisco down the coast about 20 to 30 miles off the Monterey Peninsula.
The children were safe and suffered no injuries, according to the Coast Guard. They were reunited with their mother around 10 p.m. Friday.
A fisherman tipped police after seeing Christopher Maffei and his children - Devin, 2, and Brooklynn, off Pillar Point by the San Mateo County coast. He made contact overnight, but couldn't tell authorities about it until he got back into radio range just after sunrise Friday morning.
The Coast Guard, the FBI and South San Francisco police were dispatched to retrieve the children, and that is just what happened.
Just before 9 p.m. the Coast Guard issued a press release titled, "Coast Guard, local agencies rescued missing children aboard sailboat off Calif. coast."
Officials said the rescue was peaceful and the suspect, 43-year-old Christopher Maffei, was cooperative. He is now in police custody.
"A Coast Guard cutter approached the vessel and just started talking to them," Coast Guard spokesman Thomas McKenzie said. "He put his hands up and surrendered without incident."
Members of the Coast Guard said they boarded the vessel and took the children off one at a time. Investigators said they decided to make contact with the suspect while he was still out at sea instead of waiting for him to get to land because they knew he was running low on fuel.
All of the officials involved in the rescue said it was a great example of a successful partnership.
“This case highlights the successful partnership between the Coast Guard and local law enforcement, the South San Francisco Police Department, the Federal Bureau of the Investigation, California Department of Fish and Game, Monterey County Sherriff’s and Police Department, Seaside Police Department and the Pacific Grove Police Department,” said Cmdr. Donald Montoro, Chief of Response, Coast Guard Sector San Francisco. “We train with our local partners so that when these complex situations arise we can respond quickly.”
The rescue comes three days after Maffei allegedly abducted his 3-year-old daughter, Brooklynn, and 2-year-old son, Devin, from their mother's home.
For much of the day a C-130 aircraft hovered over the yacht as a U.S. Coast Guard cutter from Treasure Island followed by water. It was not immediately clear if Maffei knew he was being followed.
The children's mother, Jennifer Hipon, was anxiously awaiting her childrens' safe return at her South San Francisco home. She said that Maffei, whom she had dated in the past, had recently returned from Thailand, and had wanted to see his children.
She agreed, but added that he had seemed increasingly anxious to be near the kids. His zeal to see the children scared her enough to seek a restraining order against him, she told NBC Bay Area on Friday. She was at the courthouse in Redwood City on Tuesday seeking that order, when she said Maffei went to her home on James Court about 3 p.m.
Her mother was babysitting, and Hipon said he just grabbed the kids, one under each arm.
Police then believe Maffei took off in a rented white Ford Fusion to the Bellena Isle Marina in Alameda, where he later allegedly stole a yacht from Alameda and sailed away. Investigators say that Maffei had been at the habor two weeks before, and had asked about buying a boat.
The rental car was discovered at the marina and towed for evidence.
The stolen boat was recovered and would be returned to its owner, according to police.