Eight people have died after two boats smuggling migrants into the United States overturned while approaching the San Diego coast. The incident is being called one of the deadliest human smuggling operations in US history.
According to ABC’s Kake, a Spanish speaking woman called 911 late Saturday night to report that the second boat had capsized. The anonymous caller cited some 15 passengers, while authorities estimated there were 23 passengers between the two boats. By the time authorities arrived, none of the surviving passengers remained at the scene. It is believed the survivors fled on foot to San Diego, just 15 miles to the south.
Emergency responders were able to pull eight bodies out of the water, but are uncertain if there were more victims due to foggy weather. The authorities believe the plan was to run the small open boats, called pangas, ashore to deliver the migrants, but the unforeseen weather conditions caused them to topple just before they reached land.
San Diego Lifeguard Chief James Gartland said:
“That area is very hazardous, even in the daytime. It has a series of sandbars and in-shore rip currents, so you can think that you can land in some sand or get to waist-high, knee-high water and think that you’re able to be safe to exit the water but there’s long, in-shore holes. If you step into those holes, those rip currents will pull you along the shore and back out to sea,” he told reporters at a Sunday morning news conference.
Authorities are still investigating the incident, with much of the facts remaining unknown from precisely how many passengers the boats carried to their nationalities. Kake suggests that they could likely be Mexicans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, or El Salvadorans, with migrants from these countries being more likely to be expelled under the Title 42 health rule.
Migrants from these four nations are the only ones Mexico has agreed to take back under extradition, making migrants from the countries more keen on evading detection when entering the US.