Good Samaritans helped rescue 26 passengers from a sinking fishing boat near the Coronado Islands Saturday morning, U.S. Coast Guard officials in San Diego confirmed.
At around 5 a.m., watchstanders at the Coast Guard Sector San Diego Joint Harbor Operation Center (JHOC) received a report that Invicta, a 63-foot sportfishing boat, struck rocks near the Coronado Islands and was taking on water.
Those aboard the boat had deployed their life rafts in the waters off the Mexican coast after initially being jolted awake by the collision, according to one of the people who was rescued.
The Coast Guard said the JHOC quickly transmitted and urgent marine information broadcast and obtained permission from the Mexican government to enter Mexico’s airspace and territorial waters so they could rescue the passengers.
A Sector San Diego MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew was launched and the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Sea Otter was diverted to assist the passengers and crew.
Meanwhile, a civilian crew aboard a 35-foot commercial fishing boat called “Sweet Marie” overheard the urgent broadcast and diverted to also help the passengers of the sinking boat.
Sweet Marie's crew got to the group in distress first, and the good Samaritans were able to help transport all 21 passengers and five crew members onto Sweet Marie.
Sweet Marie then began making its way toward San Diego. En route, the Coast Guard’s Sea Otter crew arrived and transferred all of the passengers onto the cutter, and took them to the San Diego Harbor Police dock on Shelter Island, near H&M Landing, where the group arrived safely between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.
All passengers and crewmembers were wearing lifejackets, Coast Guard officials confirmed. One passenger suffered a back injury, but declined medical treatment. Everyone else was unharmed.
The Invicta was reported to have broken apart.
A passenger on the doomed Invicta, Darian Fox, told NBC 7 on Saturday that the ship sunk before his eyes.
Fox told NBC 7 the vessel was on out on a plumbing company’s annual fishing trip at the time of the incident.
The boat left Friday night and Fox said most, if not everyone, on board was asleep when the boat struck the rocks. They quickly outfitted themselves with life vests before the boat began taking on water.
Fox said the boat was going in circles right before it hit the rocks near Coronado Island. He had just woken up when the crash happened.
"I was walking out of the bathroom - that's when the boat went full on collision with the islands, the Coronado Islands, and it threw everybody and just put everybody in a frenzy," he recalled.
Everyone on board put on their life jackets and hopped off the boat and onto emergency rafts.
"[We] stayed calm and made sure everybody else was calm,” Fox recounted. "[We] worked as a team to get out of it.”
A flare was then shot into the air, the passenger said. The Sweet Marie saw the flare and got the passengers onto their vessel where they all safely waited for the U.S. Coast Guard crews to arrive.
Fox told NBC 7 people aboard the sinking boat lost all of their fishing gear, phones, wallets, keys and other personal items in the incident.
He's grateful everyone made it out alive.
“It’s a cool story. Nobody can beat that one,” Fox added.
Coast Guard officials said the incident is under investigation.
The Coast Guard is speaking with Mexico's Secretaría de Marina (SEMAR) regarding any environmental impacts of the sunken vessel. Officials said the crew aboard Sweet Marie’s was able to collect all life rafts from the Invicta.
NBC 7 reached out to H&M Landing in San Diego, a booking agency for boats. A rep from the Landing told NBC 7 Invicta was one of the boats booked out by the agency. All of the boats that go through the Landing are independently owned and operated, the rep said.