Authorities in San Diego launched two helicopters and at least one rescue boat late Thursday night to investigate a report — which ultimately turned out to be unfounded — of about a dozen people struggling in the ocean near the U.S.-Mexico border, officials said.
The false alarm was sparked by a single man rescued by Tijuana lifeguards while apparently trying to swim to the U.S. around 9 p.m., according to Luis Hernandez, operations chief for Tijuana’s lifeguards.
A source with municipal authorities in Tijuana identified the would-be border crosser as a 30-year-old Honduran migrant.
He was apparently drunk and upon being rescued told lifeguards that at least 10 others had been with him in the water, Hernandez said. His statement led to the large binational emergency response.
U.S. Coast Guard officials launched a helicopter and the cutter Sea Otter, the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department launched a helicopter, and lifeguards from San Diego and Imperial Beach scrambled to the Friendship Park border area for the potential search-and-rescue mission.
Within about an hour, Mexican authorities passed word north of the border that the reports of a dozen people in the water was false.
Witnesses told Tijuana lifeguards the Honduran man was the only person to enter the water, according to Hernandez and Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Patrick Kelley.
“Officials [in Mexico] located the rest of the group [on land], and we stood down,” Kelley said. “Our helicopter basically flew out there, and flew back.”
The man who was rescued was taken to a Tijuana hospital to be treated for possible hypothermia, Mexican officials said.
Public safety officials in Tijuana were on high alert Thursday evening, especially along the coast, after rumors spread that several dozen Central American migrants were planning to march from their makeshift shelter in a sports complex to the beach in Playas de Tijuana.
It was unclear what they planned to do once the reached the ocean, but officials said the large group never materialized at the beach Thursday night.