At about 4:30 a.m., law enforcement authorities spotted a 30-foot panga
in distress in the surf just off of Torrey Pines State Beach. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter on routine patrol in the area diverted when it spotted the boat, people in the water, and people scattering into the nearby brush, while the San Diego Police Department responded on land after hearing cries for help from the beach.
Federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities responded to the scene, including CBP’s Office of Air and Marine and Border Patrol, U.S. Coast Guard, San Diego Fire and Rescue, State Parks Service, San Diego Lifeguards, and the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, to help those in trouble, to search the nearby area for others from the boat, and to close the area to the public. Authorities estimate approximately 100 law enforcement officers assisted.
Responding personnel pulled several people from the water, and provided emergency medical assistance on the beach to two people. One remains in critical condition at a local hospital; the other died en route. An additional four people were transported to area hospitals this morning; three have been released at this time.
For several hours after the event, U.S. Border Patrol agents, a CBP helicopter crew, and several state and local law enforcement groups searched nearby Torrey Pines State Park for other passengers from the vessel. The search, which led to another ten people taken into custody by the U.S. Border Patrol, closed the park for the first half of the day
An exact number of persons originally on the vessel
is unknown; while authorities found 29 life jackets at the scene, many looked as though they were extras and had not been worn.
The U.S. Coast Guard continued search and rescue operations in the area throughout the day and night, and will continue searching into tomorrow.
CBP Marine Interdiction Agents took custody of the panga, a typical fiberglass Mexican fishing vessel
. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is investigating the incident for possible prosecutions. ICE agents would like to talk to anyone who witnessed this morning’s fatal smuggling incident. Anyone with specific information is asked to call 1-866-347-2432 and leave their contact information; an ICE agent in San Diego will call and respond.
“This is the worst situation when you spot a suspicious boat on the water before dawn: the boat in distress, people in the water, and others from the vessel scattering rather than providing any assistance or calling for help,” said John Murphy, director of Air Operations for CBP in San Diego. “This attempt today turned deadly and is a timely wake-up call – you put your life in grave danger when you trust a smuggler to provide for your safety. The united effort today by all of the law enforcement officers involved saved lives.”