A Customs and Border Protection officer in a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter. Courtesy CBP

For the first time on the West Coast, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents fired warning shots from a helicopter across the bow of a suspected drug smuggling boat off the coast of San Diego County, the agency announced Monday.

Shots were fired when the panga boat, spotted 24 miles off La Jolla Saturday night, wouldn’t stop for authorities, according to CBP.

“You always want a vessel to stop when they are first directed to do so,” said Mitch Pribble, director of air operations for CBP in San Diego.

“However, when a suspected criminal chooses to flee, the ability to fire those warning shots gives us another option that can be used to get them to stop before they become a greater danger to law enforcement personnel, innocent civilians on the water, and themselves,” Pribble said.

The panga stopped immediately after the shots were fired, and three men were taken into custody, according to CBP.

Agency officials said the crew of a U.S. Coast Guard fixed-wing aircraft spotted the panga as it sped north toward Santa Catalina Island. CBP boats in the area and a helicopter patrolling around the island were called in, and people on the panga could be seen jettisoning bales overboard, according to the agency.

CBP said a search was started for the bales, which likely contained marijuana.

— City News Service

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