SAN DIEGO, Calif. (AP) — At least eight people were killed when two suspected smuggling boats approached a San Diego beach and one capsized, and crews are searching Sunday for an estimated seven additional victims, authorities said.
A woman on one of the panga-style boats called 911 late Saturday to report that the other vessel had overturned in waves off Blacks Beach, according to U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Richard Brahm.
“The woman who called stated that the boat that overturned had 15 people on it, but that was just an estimate,” Brahm said.
Coast Guard and San Diego Fire-Rescue crews pulled eight bodies from the water, but thick fog hampered the search for additional victims. A Coast Guard cutter combed the area early Sunday, and officials hoped to get helicopters in the air when weather improves, Brahm said.
Daniel Eddy, San Diego Fire-Rescue’s deputy chief of operations, said there was a long debris field on Black’s Beach. Black’s Beach is jointly owned by the city of San Diego and the state. The stretch of sand is also known as Torrey Pines City Beach and Torrey Pines State Beach.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Eddie Berrios confirmed eight people died and teams were searching for at least seven more. He didn’t know what kind of boats they were, but said pangas – small open boats with outboard engines used in smuggling operations – often come ashore there.
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Brahm didn’t know if anyone on the second boat was injured or whether they were apprehended by Border Patrol.
It was unclear if any arrests were made and the nationalities of the passengers was unknown. Illegal crossings have soared under President Joe Biden, with many migrants turning themselves in to Border Patrol agents and being released in the United States to pursue their cases in immigration court.
A pandemic rule scheduled to end May 11 denies migrants a chance to seek asylum on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19 but enforcement has fallen disproportionately on Mexicans, Hondurans, Guatemalans and El Salvadorans because those have been the only nationalities that Mexico agreed to take back. As a result, people of those four countries have been more likely to try to elude capture, knowing they are likely to be expelled under the public health rule, known as Title 42 authority. Mexico recently began taking back Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans under Title 42.
Associated Press writer Christopher Weber contributed from Los Angeles.