One man dead, three rescued from capsized panga off Ocean Beach
Three men were rescued and one was found dead after a possible smuggling boat overturned off Ocean Beach early April 10.
First responders were called at around 12:45 a.m. after the capsized 30-foot panga was discovered, said Lt. Ric Stell of the San Diego lifeguard service.
Lifeguard teams searched in the water and on the shore with help from two helicopters, one from the Coast Guard and one from the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, for several hours, but no other people were found, Stell said.
Video from OnScene.TV showed a lifeguard on a personal watercraft bobbing in the waves as a man in a life jacket pulled himself onto a rescue flotation device behind the vessel.
The U.S. Border Patrol also was at the scene, since pangas often are used to transport undocumented migrants from Mexican waters to the United States. Pangas are low-slung boats outfitted with outboard motors — sometimes used as fishing vessels — favored by some smugglers because their low profile often allows them to be undetected as they cross the border.
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The Consulate General of Mexico in San Diego said it confirmed that the man who died was a Mexican citizen.
Two men were rescued from the water, one near the Ocean Beach Pier and one closer to the parking lot by Dog Beach, Stell said. Another man managed to make it to shore near the parking lot. All three were taken to a hospital in stable condition, Stell said.
Tekae Michael, acting special operations supervisor for the Border Patrol’s San Diego sector, said no one from the panga had been taken into custody. She said the nationalities of the men who were rescued had not immediately been determined.
The man who died was found near Dog Beach as well. A man fishing on the beach told OnScene.TV that he saw the man’s body and alerted lifeguards.
The surf was especially high, making conditions dangerous for boats like the one the men were traveling in. “There was breaking surf at times outside the pier,” Stell said.
As ramped-up border enforcement has made getting into the United States more difficult, migrants hoping to reach U.S. soil increasingly turn to more dangerous routes, including deserts, mountains and oceans.
Journeys by panga are often perilous, especially as smugglers tend to travel farther from shore and at night or when there is fog to avoid being seen.
Two men were sentenced in December — one to five years in prison and the other to nearly six — for their roles in a smuggling trip involving a panga that led to the death of one man off La Jolla.
Nearly a year ago, a trawler-style boat carrying undocumented immigrants crashed off Point Loma, killing three and injuring dozens. On April 6, the captain of that boat, Antonio Hurtado, pleaded guilty to felony charges of attempted human smuggling resulting in death and attempted human smuggling for financial gain relating to each of the migrants who died.
Antonio Hurtado admitted to being on drugs when he tried to smuggle 32 migrants aboard his boat, which capsized off the Cabrillo National Monument last May.
Border crossings in general slowed dramatically at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic but have since risen to higher levels than they were before 2020.
Occupants of a panga boat that made it to shore at Sunset Cliffs were among a total of 72 people detained by federal agents in San Diego this week who had been on three boats headed north into the United States, Customs and Border Protection officials said.
That’s partly because of a pandemic policy known as Title 42 that allows officials to quickly expel migrants, including asylum seekers, without normal processing such as protection screenings. That policy also removes the consequences for repeat crossing attempts, so many people have tried to enter the United States multiple times, only to be expelled again and again.
Two people were taken to a hospital after being found injured near a possible smuggling vessel off Point Loma early April 4, federal officials said.
Mexicans make up the largest share of border crossers. Nationally, about 36 percent of border crossers apprehended by the Border Patrol so far in fiscal 2022 were Mexican, according to government data. In the San Diego sector, the proportion is 75 percent.