Border Patrol officials said a 40-foot cabin cruiser that overturned off Point Loma on Sunday, killing four people, was suspected of being part of a smuggling operation.
Four people died and 25 people were rescued and hospitalized — one in critical condition — after the boat capsized, officials said.
The accident happened at about 10:30 a.m. Sunday in ocean waters off the Cabrillo National Monument. Border Patrol officials said the boat crashed into the shoreline surrounding the monument and overturned. Eventually, all aboard the boat jumped in the water as it slowly disintegrated, as seen in a bystander’s video.
The boat was possibly being used to transport undocumented people into the United States, according to Jeffery Stephenson of the Customs and Border Protection Public Affairs Office.
“It was a smuggling vessel,” Stephenson said at a Sunday afternoon press briefing. “Border Patrol agents are with a man we believe was the operator.
“Smugglers don’t care about the people they’re exploiting,” he said. “All they care about is profit. They had inadequate safety equipment and obviously this vessel was severely overcrowded.”
San Diego lifeguards conducted seven water rescues and one cliff rescue, said James Gartland, lifeguard chief.
“This was a mass rescue operation that turned into a mass casualty event,” Gartland said. One person suffered major trauma and three others needed CPR, he said.
Gartland called the sinking the worst incident he has seen in his 26 years in the lifeguard service.
“It’s a tragic event here in San Diego,” Gartland said.
“The lifeguards performed excellent,” the chief added. “We train for this exact type of incident. It was an excellent effort by all the rescuers and responders who showed up today.”
San Diego Fire-Rescue Department personnel, lifeguards, U.S. Coast Guard boats and aircraft and Customs and Border Protection air support were still in the area Sunday afternoon searching for other possible victims.
The 25 people who were rescued were taken to a variety of local hospitals, 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.
SDFRD firefighters and lifeguards, along with federal firefighters, U.S. Coast Guard and other local agencies worked together on the accident.
About 96 personnel aided in the rescue, including medics, fire engine crews and a chaplain.
Updated at 7:15 a.m., Monday, May 3, 2021