Three women have died after getting lost in a remote, rugged area of the Laguna Mountains, Border Patrol officials said.
The victims were part of a group of five unauthorized immigrants who had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border Monday evening, according to a tweet from Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Heitke, the new head of the Border Patrol in the San Diego area.
Members of the group were suffering from hypothermia when they called 911, Heitke tweeted.
HAPPENING NOW: #USBP are working hard to rescue 5 people in the Laguna Mountains after they got lost crossing the border illegally. They called 911 when members of their group began suffering from hypothermia. 3 of 5 in critical-grave condition. SD fire is assisting. pic.twitter.com/KOoYIoE0Q4— Chief Patrol Agent Aaron M. Heitke (@USBPChiefSDC) February 11, 2020
Temperatures on the La Posta Indian Reservation and in the Mount Laguna community, near where the group was found, were in the 30s and low 40s throughout the day Monday, according to the National Weather Service. Mount Laguna also received seven inches of snow as of 4 p.m.
Border Patrol agents were able to reach the victims about 5 p.m. Monday, about three hours after the group initially called for help, but by that time two of the women were already in grave condition and unresponsive, Border Patrol spokesman Agent Theron Francisco said in a statement.
All three had died by 7:30 p.m.
Unfortunately, rescue efforts for 3 of the 5 people were unsuccessful. The three remaining people on the mountain have died. Due to severe weather, recovery of the bodies must wait until tomorrow. Agents & @CALFIRESANDIEGO have cleared the scene for now.— Chief Patrol Agent Aaron M. Heitke (@USBPChiefSDC) February 11, 2020
Francisco said that “due to severe weather,” authorities would have to wait until Tuesday morning at the earliest to recover the bodies via helicopter. It was unclear Tuesday afternoon if the bodies had been recovered.
Two Mexican men traveling with the group survived. One is 37 years old and the other is 22.
Border Patrol officials were first alerted that a group of five people needed help and immediate medical attention near Cuyapaipe Indian Reservation, Francisco said in the statement.
The reservation, about 10 miles northwest of the Golden Acorn Casino and Interstate 8, “is very rural and extremely rugged,” Francisco said.
Border Patrol agents sent to the area found the two men who were able to walk out of the area on their own, Francisco said. The pair told the agents there were still three women awaiting rescue and “in desperate need of medical attention.”
In a statement, Heitke said agents put their lives in danger trying to rescue the group and he was proud of their “heroic efforts.”
“This incident that resulted in the tragic loss of lives was totally avoidable,” he said. “We have said many times, do not place your life or the lives of your loved ones in the hands of ruthless smugglers.”
Agents arrested the two men on suspicion of entering the United States illegally. The bodies of the women will be turned over to the San Diego County medical examiner’s office once they are recovered.
Riggins writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.