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When a boat loaded with Mexican migrants sank, Navy men dived into the sea to save them

Brittny Mejia, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

"We announced it in advance to try to deter as much as we could to kind of send the message to smugglers, the ocean is inherently unsafe," said Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Jeff Stephenson. "With water temperatures being what they are … it's a very dangerous scenario."

The smuggling attempt on Sunday took place along the western shore of Cabrillo National Monument, a popular recreational area featuring tide pools and hiking trails.

Foy was on a family outing with his wife, two sons and daughter when they first spotted what appeared to be an empty boat getting closer to the shore. While hiking, Foy kept looking back at the boat getting pulled closer to shore, as if it "didn't have any power."

It was about 10 a.m., and lifeguards had been alerted that a vessel was having trouble near the surf line, but no emergency crews had arrived yet.

When Foy spotted people jumping into the ocean, he handed his wife the car keys and his phone.

"I'll be back," he told her. "I'm going to go help out."


Another man, in training to be a Navy SEAL, joined Foy in the rescue. Foy warned him this would not be a controlled environment, calling it a "life or death situation."

Few were better suited for the rescue: Foy is a naval aircrewman who flies in the back of helicopters. One of his responsibilities is rescues at sea.

In the 60-degree water, the men swam around debris and plowed through 5- to 6-foot surf. They rested on what appeared to be the top of the boat's cabin, where they caught their breath and came up with a game plan. The floating debris, they decided, would be their "casualty collection point."

In normal circumstances, Foy would be in a helicopter, able to see everything from above, able to execute the rescue with the proper gear. This time, he got help from a man standing on the rocks, who pointed them to the passengers.


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