SAN DIEGO (CNS) – Eight migrants drowned late Saturday when two alleged smuggling boats capsized off Black’s Beach in the Torrey Pines area,
officials said today.
“We lost eight souls,” San Diego Lifeguard Chief James Gartland said at a news conference Sunday morning. He added that so far, no survivors had been found.
Thick fog slowed rescue efforts overnight, but Coast Guard and San Diego Fire-Rescue crews were searching the water for more potential survivors or victims on Sunday.
U.S. Coast Guard officials got a call from the San Diego Police Department at 11:35 p.m. Saturday about a boat landing on Black’s Beach, Coast Guard spokesman Adam Stanton told City News Service. Gartland said an unknown person who spoke Spanish called San Diego dispatch and told them about the two vessels, holding a total of 15 people, overturning.
Lifeguards “did the best we could to recover people from the water, trying to find survivors,” Gartland said. After an hour of searching for survivors, “we were in recovery mode for five hours after that,” said Gartland, adding that access was difficult due to the tide and coastal cliffs.
Gartland said some boat passengers “may have left the beach, we’re not sure.” He said both vessels were capsized and inside the shoreline when
first responders arrived on the scene, which was hazardous due to sand bars and in-shore rip currents.
He explained that long in-shore holes can cause rip currents to pull people back out to sea, adding that surf conditions on Saturday night were only a 3-foot swell.
“This is one of the worst maritime smuggling tragedies that I can think of in California, certainly here in the city of San Diego,” Gartland
“This is not necessarily people trying to find a better life,” said Capt. James Spitler, sector commander for the U.S. Coast Guard San Diego.
“This is part of a trans-national criminal organization effort to smuggle people into the United States. These people are often labor-trafficked and sex- trafficked when they arrive.”
San Diego Fire-Rescue officials said the lifeguard dispatcher used GPS coordinates from the reporting party’s cell phone to establish a location, about 800 yards north of the base of Black Gold Road. The first lifeguard unit to arrive couldn’t access the beach due to high tide and headed north, wading through knee- to waist-deep water.
“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,” the SDFD stated. “The first lifeguards on scene triaged a total of seven bodies — all were deceased.”
Lifeguards pulled the victims from knee-deep water and the waterline, and onto dry sand. Federal and military responders found the eighth body, the SDFD said. Authorities also found several life jackets and fuel barrels, according to the SDFD.
All the victims were turned over to the county Medical Examiner’s Office at the base of Black Gold Road. Along with the Coast Guard and the SDFD, San Diego lifeguards were assisted by the San Diego Police Department and UC San Diego police, the state lifeguard agency, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, Air Force and Marine operations.