A boat suspected of illegally smuggling migrants from Mexico to the United States capsized off the coast of San Diego late Saturday night, leading to the deaths of at least eight people who were plunged into the water, officials said.
As reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune, two “pangas,” or skiff boats, were traveling to Black's Beach in the Torrey Pines area when one of them dumped around 15 people into the ocean. A woman from the other panga, which made it to land, placed a 911 call at about 11:30 pm to get help, telling the dispatcher that she had come from Mexico.
According to the San Diego Fire-Rescue team, a lifeguard dispatcher tracked the location of the capsized boat using GPS coordinates from the woman's cell phone, leading first responders to an area “around 800 yards north of the base of Black Gold Road, south of Torrey Pines Gliderport.”
“After a couple hundred yards, lifeguards on the beach reached dry sand and then began to find lifeless bodies and two overturned pangas spread over an area of about 400 yards,” said the department in a statement. “Several life jackets and fuel barrels were also found.”
The local outlet reported that lifeguards were able to locate seven of the bodies, with an eighth being found by Customs and Border Protection's Air and Marine Operations officers. According to the Union-Tribune, the bodies were pulled from “knee-deep water and from the waterline up to the beach to dry sand.”
“The woman who called stated that the boat that overturned had 15 people on it, but that was just an estimate,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Richard Brahm said to ABC 7, adding that rescue operations are underway to locate the missing seven.
The deceased have yet to be identified by the county's Medical Examiner's Office.
“We couldn't get any helicopters up,” San Diego Fire-Rescue Deputy Chief of Operations Daniel Eddy said about the weather conditions on that night.
“We had boats in the water, but at first light, once all the conditions clear, we will have Coast Guard out here and San Diego Fire-Rescue and lifeguards doing a joint search through the water for any possible victims that are left,” he said.
“We tried to launch helicopters both from San Diego Fire and Coast Guard but due to the conditions, they couldn’t get up,” he continued. “Coast Guard finally got up with their copter but due to the conditions of the fog in the area it was hard for their (forward-looking thermal imaging cameras) to get through to see anything in the water. We are hoping at first light we will have better conditions to get everybody out there.”
A spokesperson from CBP said that he had no information on the incident.