Mexican military escorts 10News Anchor into rarely seen drug tunnel in Tijuana

Tunnel starts at Tijuana Otay warehouse district

SAN DIEGO - It's dark, hot and dirty. It's a place few members of the media have gone - but it's a place 10News saw firsthand - the inside of a drug tunnel designed to reach San Diego from the Mexican side of the border.

MORE IMAGES: Tijuana drug tunnel

The Mexican military escorted a 10News crew to the tunnel. It is a sophisticated system that demonstrates what drug cartels will do, in order to get drugs into the U.S.

Below is a firsthand account from 10News Anchor Steve Atkinson of the trip.

Our story begins in the Otay warehouse district of Tijuana inside an unsuspecting building just like hundreds of others in this bustling business park. But this particular warehouse held a deep secret for months.

The secret was a drug tunnel almost four football fields long with sophisticated engineering including an elevator, electricity, ventilation, and a rail system.

It could have generated millions for the cartel building it. But it was shut down before it ever reached its destination.

Click map to enlarge

On a rainy Tijuana morning, we traveled with the Mexican Military for an exclusive look inside the tunnel.

Our convoy was much like the one that was called out February 4, to investigate what an anonymous resident reported as suspicious activity outside the building near the U.S. border.

Jorge Nieto, a Tijuana reporter, described our proximity to the U.S. border, which was just four blocks from the warehouse.

"Behind the truck, that wall, is the border,” said Nieto.

I asked, “So there is a very good chance they go right up under the wall and reach another warehouse on the U.S. side?”   

“Yes," he answered, "because on the U.S. side is coming to be a lot of warehouse too.” .

Inside, the warehouse still looks very much like it did the day of the seizure. Hundred of bags filled with dirt from the excavation of the tunnel cover the warehouse floor.

Dusty work clothes and shoes have been left behind by those constructing the tunnel. Thirteen people were on the warehouse floor that day. Their job was to load bags of dirt into trucks that backed into the warehouse loading bays to be hauled away.

Near the front of the building, down a flight of steps, we found a small closet. Inside was an elevator shaft almost 40 feet deep. We had to be lowered down with a harness because the elevator is now broken.

We were told we would have less than 30 minutes with our cameras because of the heat, humidity, and lack of air.

At the tunnel entrance we found stacks of bags full of dirt. They were ready to be loaded on the elevator for the ascent up to the warehouse.

As soon as we enter the tunnel the humidity was thick and the air thin. Without any type of ventilation there was no way the workers digging this tunnel could have survived.

The project itself was so new those building the tunnel only had time to reinforce the first 15 feet of wall with plywood and two-by-fours.

Only four feet wide, the tunnel itself was just wide enough for a motorized rail system. The metal rail carts would haul the bags of dirt, and eventually the drugs, from one end to another.

Almost two hundred yards inside, the electrical system and ventilation are no longer operational. The only light we had at the time was from small flashlights and our camera light. The walls were covered with partially exposed rocks.

As we trekked deeper and deeper into the tunnel it began to become smaller and much hotter. Even with the ventilation the labor had to have been very intensive and incredibly claustrophobic for the workers.

To reduce noise, there was no major equipment. We discovered only shovels and picks used for digging.

The tunnel was unfinished and the military has no idea where the exit was targeted. 

IMAGES: Other notable drug tunnel discoveries

Towards the tunnel's end the soldiers discovered four more workers during the seizure. A total of 17 people were arrested that day and the warehouse was shut down.

DEA MAP

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