The skiff was spotted in the swells off South Ponto Beach in Carlsbad shortly after 2 a.m., according to the U.S. Border Patrol. When agents approached, the three occupants leaped into the water, and two immediately swam to shore, where they were taken into custody. Medics took both men to a hospital for treatment of possible hypothermia.
Aboard the vessel were 108 bundles of marijuana containing a total of 2,938 pounds of cannabis, according to USBP officials.
Police, lifeguards, firefighters, federal agents and the U.S. Coast Guard spent the rest of the morning searching the ocean and shoreline in the area by boat and helicopter in an unsuccessful bid to locate the missing third man.
In the early afternoon, authorities began classifying the operation as a body-recovery effort as opposed to a rescue attempt, based on the estimated amount time a person could survive in the sea under prevailing conditions, Carlsbad city spokeswoman Kristina Ray said.
“According to Battalion Chief Mike Calderwood, efforts will continue, but at a scaled-back level,” she said. “The city of Carlsbad Fire Department will turn over command of the incident to … Encinitas lifeguards, (who) will manage the recovery efforts.”
It was the second time in as many days that a suspecting smuggling operation was foiled off the North County coast.
Early Monday, eight suspected illegal immigrants and three U.S. citizens were detained when a small boat landed in Del Mar. Border Patrol agents spotted it heading north off the coast of Torrey Pines about 1:30 a.m., and several people were caught a short time later while climbing up cliffs with flashlights near 11th Street, officials said.
The vessel was seized and its pilot taken into custody, according to USBP Agent Steven Pitts. Two vehicles found nearby also were seized, he said.