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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

The rescue prompted an enormous emergency response. The U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Diego, San Diego Harbor Police, San Diego Fire-Rescue and San Diego Lifeguards, San Diego Fire Department, Border Patrol, Air and Marine Operations, Office of Field Operations, Homeland Security Investigations and National Park Service all assisted in the rescue.

Romero said Sunday's incident was the biggest smuggling attempt he had ever encountered, with the traffickers using a larger-than-average boat and carrying more people than normal.

The incident is the latest in a two-year surge. In fiscal year 2020, Border Patrol agents detained about 1,200 people during maritime smuggling attempts — a 92% increase from the prior fiscal year, Stephenson said. So far, in fiscal 2021, there have been 156 maritime smuggling incidents and 909 arrests.

Survivors suffered hypothermia and other injuries caused by the breakup of the boat, officials said. Five are still in the hospital, and one remains in critical condition. On Monday, the Coast Guard suspended its search for any other boat passengers.

"We believe we have everybody," U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Kroll said.

Kroll said the warmer spring weather is deceptive.

 

"The sea is very unforgiving, especially when it starts to warm up in the May, June time frame. It's kind of a false sense of security that it's safer, but the water is still very cold," Kroll said. "It's not as easy and as risk free as people may think it is. It's an extremely dangerous route to take."

After the rescue, Foy was separated from his family. He headed to the Port of San Diego by boat and didn't reach the dock until two hours had passed. Then he caught a ride home to Coronado and told his family the story of what happened after he left them on the hiking trail.

"They were kind of in shock," Foy said. "In shock in a good way."

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(Times staff writer Andrea Castillo contributed to this report.)

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