At least eight adult migrants drowned Saturday when two suspected smuggling boats capsized off Black's Beach in San Diego, California, the Times of San Diego reported.
"This is one of the worst maritime smuggling tragedies that I can think of in California, and certainly here in the city of San Diego," Lifeguard Chief James Gartland of the San Diego Fire Department told the Los Angeles Times.
"We did the best we could to recover people from the water," Gartland also said.
Officials reportedly became aware of the incident after a woman on one of the boats called 911 around 11:30 p.m. to ask for help. Her boat had made it to shore, she said, but the other had capsized, leaving people in the water.
She gave the location of the two boats near Black's Beach in San Diego's Torrey Pines neighborhood. She said the pair of vessels were carrying 15 people in total. Officials now say up to 15 people may have been aboard the second boat alone, the Times also reported.
When responders arrived at the location, they found two capsized boats, several life jackets, and fuel barrels, KGTV reported.
Garland said he had encountered no survivors, according to the LA Times. He also said he was not sure if some survivors might have left the beach. In addition, he said more bodies may still be in the water.
By Sunday morning, responders had found eight lifeless bodies. The search operation was reportedly made more difficult due to thick fog and high tides.
The overturned panga boats were spread over a 400-yard area, Garland said.
"Since 2021, we’ve had 23 lives lost at sea," Coast Guard Capt. James Spitler, the commander of the Coast Guard’s San Diego sector, told reporters at a news conference, remarking on the 771% increase in human trafficking in southern California's coastal region, the outlet also reported.
Spitler added that the true number of people who die while traveling on smuggling boats is unknown.
"Every time they get into a panga to come northbound, their lives are at risk," Spitler also said, noting the compound dangers presented by weather conditions, overloaded vessels, and poor boat maintenance.
Officials did not provide age, gender or nationality of any of the drowning victims, the LA Times reported, though they did say the victims they found were all adults. The bodies were turned over to the county Medical Examiner's Office for identification.
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