(SAN DIEGO) — At least eight people have died after two boats capsized near San Diego’s Black Beach, according to emergency officials.
The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department began receiving calls about the two panga fishing boats at about 11:30 p.m. Saturday, according to the San Diego Fire Department.
It is unclear what caused the boats to capsize, but fog, surf, and pitch-black conditions likely contributed, James Gartland, chief of the city of San Diego’s Lifeguard Division, told reporters during a press conference Sunday.
Authorities received a 911 call from a person reporting she was on a panga boat with 15 people that made it to the shore at Blacks Beach and that another panga with eight people had capsized and victims were in the water, fire officials said in a statement to ABC News.
Authorities used the phone’s GPS to get the location of the boats. When lifeguards and emergency crews arrived, they found two overturned boats and bodies in the water, officials said.
The first lifeguards on the scene found seven dead bodies. An additional body was found by CBP Air and Marine Operations officers, the fire department said.
One panga made it to shore with about eight people on board, Capt. James Spitler, sector commander of the Coast Guard San Diego, told reporters. The second panga then overturned with 15 people on board near Torrey Pines City Beach, Spitler said.
The victims were all adults, but it is unclear which boat they were on, Gartland said.
Gartland described the accident as “one of the worst maritime smuggling tragedies” in California.
Southern California has seen a 771% increase in human trafficking in the region since 2023, Spitler said.
The person who initially called 911 spoke Spanish, but the nationalities of the victims are unknown, Gartland said.
The rescue effort turned into a recovery overnight, which was complicated by foggy and misty conditions, first responders said.
“We did the best we could to recover people from the water and find survivors and the lifeguards,” Gartland said.
Lifeguards are still in recovery mode, Gartland said.
Search and rescue efforts have been suspended pending further developments, a Coast Guard spokesperson said Sunday night.
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