SAN DIEGO — Three people were killed and more than two dozen others were rescued after a boat overturned and broke apart off the coast of Point Loma Sunday morning during a suspected smuggling operation, authorities said.
It happened in the water just west of Cabrillo National Monument around 10 a.m. During a news conference, San Diego Lifeguard Chief James Gartland said lifeguards initially got a call about a boat drifting toward the surf line. The boat then hit the reef, and broke apart with more than 30 people on board. Initial reports included three deaths and 27 hospitalizations.
On Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search in the area and said 32 people were accounted for from the vessel. Five of the 29 survivors were taken to the hospital with one remaining in critical condition. Three people were declared dead by the San Diego County medical examiner, a USCG official said. The Coast Guard previously reported 29 people were accounted for with four declared dead by first responders.
Video sent to FOX 5 from a viewer showed the boat bobbing in rough surf offshore. Waves batter the vessel, which is leaning heavily to one side, as people try to climb up and over a railing on the side of the boat. Scattered debris and loose life vests float in the water around the boat. It appears some people were able to grab them and put them on, while others tried to stay afloat by holding debris.
The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department said more than 100 emergency workers had rushed to the area for the rescue effort, with eight fire engines, 10 medics and other local personnel responding alongside members of the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies.
Border Patrol officials said the boat was suspected of being part of a smuggling operation. “Every indication, from our perspective, is that this was a smuggling vessel used to smuggle migrants into the United States illegally” said Jeff Stephenson, a supervising agent with U.S. Border Patrol.
Stephenson also said agents were with many of the injured people at the hospital, including the person suspected of being the boat’s captain, who he described as a “suspected smuggler.” That person is now in custody, according to a Border Patrol spokesperson.
San Diego City Councilmember Jen Campbell, who represents the district including Point Loma, said she was “monitoring the incident.”
“While we wait for an official update, my thoughts are with those impacted and the many emergency personnel responding to the scene,” she wrote on Twitter.
The park service managing the Cabrillo monument said on Twitter that the tidepools and the road used to access them were closed until further notice. The park remains open.