One person died and a second was hospitalized after a suspected smuggling boat carrying seven people capsized in unusually high surf and cold weather off the coast of Imperial Beach early Monday, authorities said.
Federal officers spotted the boat, estimated to be a Bayliner-style vessel about 16 to 18 feet long, heading north off the coast of Imperial Beach around 2:30 a.m. Officials said the boat appeared to have engine problems, and at least two people were seen entering the water and swimming toward shore, said Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Jeff Stephenson. A short time later, the vessel appeared to capsize in heavy surf.
Border Patrol, Coast Guard and Air and Marine Operations officers responded and found seven people on the beach, including two who needed medical attention. Agents performed CPR on the injured pair while paramedics were called.
The two were taken to a hospital, where a 62-year-old Mexican national was pronounced dead. The second man, a 44-year-old Mexican national, was reported in grave condition and was being treated for injuries believed to be life threatening.
The five others were taken into custody and are being processed on suspicion of illegally entering the country. They range in age from 22 to 51 and were also Mexican nationals, officials said.
The boat’s captain, a 51-year-old man, will face federal charges. The boat was seized.
“We are saddened by the loss of life,” Aaron Heitke, the Border Patrol’s chief patrol agent in the San Diego sector, said in a statement. “The smuggling of humans puts its victims in dangerous and harsh conditions and maritime smuggling is especially dangerous, as we saw in this incident.”
Another official said the incident highlights the perils associated with maritime smuggling.
“Today the careless actions of those responsible for directing covert smuggling efforts resulted in the tragic loss of life,” Timothy Sutherland, director of San Diego’s air and marine branch of Customs and Border Protection, said in a statement. “Any loss of life is both tragic and unacceptable, particularly because it was avoidable. This is yet another sobering moment that reminds us of the price so many victims have paid.”
Kucher writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.