Authorities track panga for hours, arrest 15 off coast of San Diego


SAN DIEGO — Agents say they stopped 15 people off the coast of San Diego this week after tracking their fishing boat for hours as it entered the U.S. illegally overnight.

An observation aircraft first spotted the vessel heading toward the U.S. from Mexico on the evening of Sept. 9, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That aircraft kept following the boat until the crew handed off the job to a second tracking aircraft — between the two, authorities followed the boat for six hours as it made its way to San Diego.

The airborne crews got in touch with maritime units, and around 3 a.m., a CBP boat caught up to the panga and threw on its lights and sirens, officials said. The smuggling boat stopped, and agents brought all 15 people from the panga safely to shore.

The group consisted of four women, ages 19-23, and 11 men, ages 22-45 — all Mexican citizens, according to U.S. Border Patrol. Agents processed most of the group for return to their home country, but the suspected operator of the boat was held, and is expected to face federal criminal charges.

โ€œThe coordination here was key,โ€ said Tim Sutherland, Director of Operations for the San Diego Air and Marine Branch of CBP. โ€œWe had three crews spread across two aircraft and a vessel working together for many, many hours before we were able to apprehend these individuals safely while they were still at sea.โ€

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