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Coast Guard: 3 dead after boat overturns off Point Loma coast

boat capsize point loma san diego
Posted at 11:01 AM, May 02, 2021

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Three people died after a boat overturned in the waters off Point Loma Sunday morning, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard reported rescue efforts were launched near the Point Loma Tide Pools in the Cabrillo National Monument at around 10:30 a.m. following reports that a 40-foot, trawler-style boat capsized. A total of 92 personnel were assigned to the scene, including eight engines and 10 medics, ABC 10News learned.

Coast Guard officials on Monday confirmed 32 people were on the vessel when it overturned. Officials said 29 people survived, with five survivors taken to area hospitals for treatment; one of those people remains in critical condition.

Three people were declared dead by the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office, the Coast Guard said.

Coast Guard officials initially stated Sunday that four people had died in the incident, but that number was updated in a news release issued Monday. Search efforts by the Coast Guard were suspended on Monday as well.

According to the Mexican Consulate and US Customs and Border Protection, all but two of the people on board were Mexican nationals. One person was from Guatemala and a second, the captain of the boat, was a U.S. citizen.

The captain was turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

In a press conference Sunday, a border patrol spokesperson said the conditions smugglers put people in on boats like this are dangerous.

"They don’t care about the people they’re exploiting, all they care about is profit. To them these people are commodities."

When asked if the captain would face any charges, the U.S. Attorney's Office released the following statement: “We are working closely with our law enforcement partners as they conduct the investigation and we are carefully reviewing the matter. We cannot comment further on an ongoing investigation.”

The Border Patrol has taken 28 people into custody for processing. The group includes 21 men and 6 women, ages 18-39. One person was identified as an unaccompanied 15-year-old boy.

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Eyewitness video shot by a bystander who watched from shore showed several people jumping from the boat into rough waters and others struggling to swim to land. The 40-foot boat quickly broke up in the 5- to 6-feet of surf, creating a large swath of debris, the video showed. Some of the passengers were seen standing in waist-deep water searching through debris for some of the other passengers.

Two Navy sailors happened to be on the beach at the time of the incident, and they immediately dove into the water to start rescuing people.

Bruce Jamieson is a City of San Diego lifeguard and was one of the initial first responders on scene. He said the call initially came in as one person stuck on a boat off of Point Loma, so he and two other lifeguards responded. When they arrived on scene, they quickly realized it was much worse.

"It was kind of disbelief and shock because the initial report wasn’t anything of the actual scene," said Jamieson.

Jamieson added that their intense training helped in the high-stress scenario. They instantly got to work, giving medical aid to the survivors.

"We train so much that we want to get on scene and it’s just automatic. It’s not something we’re thinking about, it’s just second nature to us," he said.

At least one person was in CPR status at the time of the rescue, San Diego Fire-Rescue officials said.

The tide pools at Cabrillo National Monument were closed as a result of the incident.

Sunday's incident comes four days since federal authorities detained 21 Mexican nationals after a panga boat was stopped off about eleven miles west of the Point Loma shoreline.

"We've seen a dramatic increase in the number of maritime smuggling attempts recently," said Aaron Heitke, Chief Patrol Agent of the Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector. "All of these illegal crossings at sea are inherently dangerous, and we have seen too many turn from risky to tragic as smugglers sacrifice the safety of those on board for the sake of profits."

So far this fiscal year, the Border Patrol has documented 157 maritime smuggling events in the San Diego area, according to CBP officials.