May 16, 2021
Details of smuggling boat tragedy emerge, death toll rises
SAN DIEGO A fourth person has died after a suspected smuggling boat overturned off Point Loma near Cabrillo National Monument, according to the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department and Customs and Border Patrol officials. SDFRD described the boat as a 40-foot cabin cruiser.

Emergency crews from multiple San Diego agencies responded to the scene near 200 Catalina Blvd. which was first reported Sunday morning, according to SDFRD.

San Diego Lifeguard officials said the initial call came in as a report of a vessel adrift. As lifeguards arrived on scene the boat had crashed into the shoreline, broken apart and 30 people were in the water.

"Our goal was just to rescue everyone we can from the water and along the beach and get them safely transported to the hospital as quickly as we can," San Diego Lifeguard Lt. Rick Romero told KFMB.

Romero described conditions during the rescues as rough with five to six feet of surf, wind gusts and water temperatures around 60 degrees.

Jeffery Stephenson of the Customs and Border Protection Public Affairs Office said the agency had every indication that the boat was a smuggling vessel being used to bring people into the United States illegally.

He described the boat as "severely overcrowded." "[Smugglers] don't care about the people they're exploiting," Stephenson said.

According to San Diego Lifeguard officials, lifeguards pulled seven of the 30 people from the water and performed one cliffside rescue while the other surviving occupants from the boat swam to shore on their own.

Survivors were taken to hospitals throughout San Diego, including Sharp Memorial, Palomar Medical Center West, Alvarado, UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest, Grossmont Hospital, Kaiser Clairemont Mesa, Kaiser Zion and Paradise Valley Hospital, the SDFRD said.

"This was a mass rescue operation that turned into a mass casualty event," Gartland said. There was one major trauma and three people were treated with CPR, San Diego Lifeguard Chief James Gartland said.

The suspected smuggler was among those transported and was being questioned by Border Patrol officers, Stephenson said.

Lifeguard officials said there was a wide range of injuries and ailments being treated including hypothermia.
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