SAN DIEGO — Along a San Diego beach chewed away by winter swells, at least eight people died after the small boats they were in capsized in what the authorities said on Sunday was a human smuggling operation gone awry.
Capt. James Spitler, sector commander of the U.S. Coast Guard in San Diego, said that one boat carrying approximately eight people made it ashore, while the other, carrying an estimated 15 people, overturned in the surf. Seven of the people who died are believed to have been Mexican nationals, based on identification that they were carrying, the Consulate General of Mexico in San Diego said in a statement on Monday.
James Gartland, the head of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department’s lifeguard division, called the deaths “one of the worst maritime smuggling tragedies” in recent years.
“Often these boats are poorly maintained and overloaded,” Mr. Gartland said.
San Diego Fire-Rescue Department lifeguards responded to a 911 call around 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, according to a department spokeswoman, Mónica Muñoz.
The caller, a woman speaking Spanish, said she and other passengers of a panga boat, a small fishing vessel, had reached the shores of Black’s Beach, a secluded strip of sand beneath the bluffs of Torrey Pines on the Pacific Ocean.
By the time lifeguards arrived, their attempts to reach the beach were hampered by high tide and a heavy fog. They found both boats were capsized and inside the shore line. No survivors were found.