Eight people are dead, and as many as 15 others are missing after two alleged smuggling boats reached Black’s Beach in San Diego, California.
At 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, San Diego Fire Department (SDFD) Lifeguards received a 911 call from a Spanish-speaking woman saying she was on a panga boat with eight people that made it to shore and that another panga boat with as many as 15 people on board had capsized and people were in the water.
Officials are calling it one of the deadliest maritime events in San Diego’s history, according to La Jolla Light.
The area’s remote location, thick fog, and high tides made the search efforts challenging for rescuers, who said that the boat came to shore in an area that is extremely dangerous even during the daytime, according to NBC 5 DFW.
“It has a series of sandbars and in-shore rip currents, so you can think that you could land in some sand or get to waist-high, knee-high water and think you’re safe and able to exit the water, but there’s long in-shore holes,” said SDFD Lifeguard Chief James Gartland, according to La Jolla Light. “So if you step into those holes, those rip currents will pull you along the shore and then back out to sea.”
Lifeguards had trouble accessing the secluded beach due to a high tide and eventually found two overturned boats and lifeless bodies, according to NBC 5 DFW.
Rescue helicopters said they did not find any survivors from the second boat, and it is unclear if they made it to shore, per NBC 5.
“After an hour of searching and recovering bodies, [San Diego Lifeguards] were in recovery mode for about five hours after that,” said Gartland, per NBC 5.
“This is part of a transnational criminal organization effort to smuggle people into the United States,” said Capt. James Spitler, sector commander for the U.S. Coast Guard San Diego, according to NBC 5. “These people are often labor-trafficked and sex trafficked when they arrive.”
The victims’ nationalities have not been released, and it is still unclear what caused the incident. Investigators have yet to say where the boat came from and where it was headed, per NBC 5.
Spitler said he hopes that unlawful migrants hoping to cross the border by sea get the message that “every time they get into a panga to come northbound, their lives are at risk,” reported La Jolla Light.
Black’s Beach is located some 38 miles north of Mexico’s most northern beach in Playas de Tijuana.