8 dead after boats capsized
At least eight people have died after two migrant smuggler boats capsized on a San Diego beach In a suspected human trafficking operation, authorities said.
“This is one of the worst maritime smuggling tragedies I can think of in California, certainly here in the city of San Diego,” said James Gartland, San Diego lifeguard division chief.
Gartland said a woman called 911 around 11:30 p.m. Saturday, saying she was on a panga boat with 15 people on board that made it to shore at Black’s Beach. Speaking in Spanish, the caller said another panga – relatively small fishing boats with outboard motors often used for smuggling operations – had capsized and eight people were in the water.
Recovery efforts resumed on Sunday after heavy fog hampered the search, but no additional bodies were found, according to Coast Guard and San Diego fire crews.
Authorities said the survivors may have escaped by land, including the woman who called 911 whose whereabouts are unknown.
At least some of Saturday’s victims were Mexican, according to the country’s consulate in San Diego, but it’s unclear how many.
Police and fire services, coast guard and customs border protection assisted search and rescue efforts.
A rescue dispatcher used GPS coordinates from the caller’s cellphone to locate the wreckage.
The San Diego Fire Department said it attempted to send two helicopters to help search for victims, but conditions were too foggy and foggy.
Bodies and debris found strewn on the beach
San Diego Fire-Rescue spokeswoman Mónica Muñoz said rescue teams, unable to immediately access the beach due to high tide, waded through waist-deep water before dipping. reach two overturned pangas. Bodies and debris were strewn across 400 meters of beach and waves, Muñoz said.
The first rescuers on the scene found seven bodies, dragging the victims from the water up to their knees and from the waterline to the beach to dry sand. An eighth body was found soon after by Customs and Border Protection air and sea operations officers, Muñoz said. Several life jackets and fuel barrels were also found.
The victims were all adults
Gartland said access to the area was difficult and when his team reached the beach, the caller and the other survivors were gone. All of the victims were adults, he said.
“When we arrived at the scene, both vessels had capsized and were inside the shoreline,” he said. “This area is a very dangerous area, even during the day.”
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A Coast Guard cutter was combing the area near Black’s Beach for more casualties, and officials hoped to use helicopters when the weather improves, Coast Guard Capt. James Spitler said.
“These boats are overloaded”
Eric Lavergne, a Border Patrol spokesman, said hundreds of maritime smuggling incidents occur each year. Saturday’s accident was one of the deadliest in the United States, he said.
In May 2021, a crowded boat carrying migrants capsized and broke in powerful waves along San Diego’s rocky coast, killing three people and injuring more than two dozen. The dangers faced by people trying to reach the United States on small boats are immense, Spitler said.
“Every time they enter a panga to come north, their lives are in danger,” he said. “A lot of times these boats are overloaded, the maintenance is poor and they often do it in weather like last night where there is very little visibility, very difficult for anyone to operate in those conditions.”
Contributor: Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY; The Associated Press