At least three people died and more than 20 had to be transported to hospitals after a boat apparently used to transport undocumented immigrants sank Sunday off the coast of San Diego in Southern California, authorities said.
Rescue crews responded around 10:27 local time (17:27 GMT) to a report of an overturned boat with more than 20 people on board at Point Loma, near Cabrillo Monument National Park, according to firefighters.
“In total, about 30 people were involved with that boat, three of whom were pronounced deceased,” Rick Romero, a San Diego lifeguard lieutenant, told reporters hours later.
The boat was completely destroyed and its wreckage washed ashore, according to photographs released on Twitter by San Diego firefighters.
Romero indicated that the relief agencies upon arriving at the scene found “people in the water, drowning, being sucked by the undertow current,” while others had already reached the shore.
He described the conditions at the scene as “pretty rough”: heavy surf, cold wind and water at a temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 degrees Celsius), which, he said, can cause hypothermia “pretty quickly.”
For his part, Jeff Stephenson, a supervisor and Border Patrol agent in San Diego, said they are investigating whether it was a boat used to transport undocumented immigrants.
“Everything indicates, from our perspective, that it was a smuggling boat to smuggle migrants into the United States,” the officer said.
He assured that they have not yet confirmed the nationality of the people involved, but said that agents are consulting with the people who were taken to hospitals.
One person who allegedly piloted the boat is in the custody of agents, according to reports.
The Los Angeles Times had anticipated that authorities were studying reports that the group of people were traveling in a low-slung boat similar to those smugglers often use to bring people illegally into the United States from Mexico.