8 reported dead after suspected smuggling boat capsizes off San Diego beach

The first San Diego lifeguards to respond were not able to access the beach because of high tide, and ended up wading north through knee- to waist-deep water, officials said.

Two panga fishing boats capsize off the coast of San Diego, California
Surfers walk by a panga boat being loaded onto a trailer at Black's Beach on Sunday, after two panga fishing boats capsized off the coast of San Diego late Saturday night.
Sandy Huffaker / Reuters

SAN DIEGO — A suspected smuggling boat capsized in the ocean off San Diego late Saturday, dumping eight to 10 people into the water, eight of whom died, officials said.

A second panga carrying eight people made it to shore successfully, officials said.

Officials learned of the incident when a woman on the boat that arrived safely called 911 around 11:30 p.m. to say the second boat had capsized and people were in the water. According to San Diego police, the woman told the dispatcher she had traveled into the U.S. from Mexico in the boat.

A lifeguard dispatcher used GPS coordinates from the woman’s cellphone to pinpoint the location, San Diego Fire-Rescue officials said.

State and city lifeguards, firefighters, San Diego police as well as officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Coast Guard and the University of California, San Diego police responded to the beach but several factors hampered search efforts, including thick fog and high tides.


The first San Diego lifeguards to respond were not able to access the beach because of high tide, and ended up wading north through knee- to waist-deep water, officials said.

“After a couple hundred yards, lifeguards on the beach reached dry sand and then began to find lifeless bodies and two overturned pangas spread over an area of about 400 yards,” a statement from the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department said. “Several life jackets and fuel barrels were also found.”

Lifeguards found seven bodies and an eighth was discovered by Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operations officers. The bodies were pulled from knee-deep water and from the waterline up to the beach to dry sand, officials said.

All of the victims were turned over to the county Medical Examiner’s Office to be identified.

Thick fog hampered search efforts overnight but Coast Guard and San Diego Fire-Rescue helicopters and a Coast Guard cutter were expected to comb the area for additional victims early Sunday.

“We couldn’t get any helicopters up. We had boats in the water, but at first light, once all the conditions clear, we will have Coast Guard out here and San Diego Fire-Rescue and lifeguards doing a joint search through the water for any possible victims that are left,” Daniel Eddy, San Diego Fire-Rescue’s deputy chief of operations, told OnScene TV.

At least three people were killed and more than two dozen were injured.


The area of Black’s Beach is jointly owned by the city of San Diego and the state. The stretch of sand is also known as Torrey Pines City Beach and Torrey Pines State Beach.

“We tried to launch helicopters both from San Diego Fire and Coast Guard but due to the conditions, they couldn’t get up,” Eddy said. “Coast Guard finally got up with their copter, but due to the conditions of the fog in the area it was hard for their (forward-looking thermal imaging cameras) to get through to see anything in the water. We are hoping at first light we will have better conditions to get everybody out there.”

He said a Coast Guard frigate also was being deployed to the area.

A Border Patrol spokesman said he had no information about the incident and said he did not know of anyone detained from the scene.

©2023 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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