Wreckage from boat
Wreckage from the boat washes ashore near the Cabrillo Monument. Courtesy OnScene.TV

An investigation was continuing Monday into an apparent human-smuggling operation involving a boat that overturned in coastal waters near Point Loma over the weekend, with authorities revising down the death toll from four to three.

A total of 29 people survived the ocean accident, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, which Monday morning suspended its efforts to locate any other victims at sea.

The accident happened about 10 a.m. Sunday, when the 40-foot trawler-style vessel crashed into the shoreline near Cabrillo National Monument and capsized, according to the Border Patrol. All the occupants jumped in the water as the boat slowly disintegrated, a bystander’s video showed.

“It was a smuggling vessel,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Jeffery Stephenson told reporters. “Border Patrol agents are with a man we believe was the operator.”

Migrant smugglers “don’t care about the people they’re exploiting,” he said.

“All they care about is profit,” Stephenson told news crews. “They had inadequate safety equipment, and obviously this vessel was severely overcrowded.”

City lifeguards responding to the emergency conducted seven water rescues and helped get one person off a seaside bluff, said James Gartland, lifeguard chief.

“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, he said. One of the victims remained hospitalized in critical condition Monday morning, according to the Coast Guard.

Gartland said the accident was probably the worst he had seen in his 26 years in the lifeguard service.

“It’s a tragic event here in San Diego,” he said.

San Diego Fire-Rescue Department personnel, lifeguards, U.S. Coast Guard vessels and aircraft, and Customs and Border Protection air support were still in the area Sunday night searching for other possible victims.

The people who were rescued were taken to various 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, according to the SDFRD.

No details about the victims were immediately available.

Nearly 100 personnel were assigned to the rescue, including medics, fire engine crews and a chaplain.

The cause of the accident was under investigation.

–City News Service

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