A "dumb move" turned a sightseeing trip to the U.S.-Mexico border into a rescue from a truck submerged in the Tijuana River on Thursday, two tourists told NBC 7.
A 75-year-old father, a retired Camp Pendleton-based U.S. Marine of Idaho, and his 49-year-old son of North Dakota wanted to check out the border barrier in San Ysidro during their trip to San Diego.
To get there, the pair had to pass over the Tijuana River along Saturn Boulevard, which was flooded due to recent heavy rains and had "road closed" signs posted. The pair likely drove around them, San Diego Fire-Rescue Battalion Chief Michael Howell said.
To the duo, "the water didn't look that deep," the father told NBC 7. But the water was actually five-feet deep and moving at about 3 miles per hour, Howell said.
Soon, their red Toyota Tacoma stalled and began filling with water. Then, the truck was swept away.
When the SDFD Swift Water Rescue Team arrived, the truck was nearly fully submerged in the Tijuana River. The father was sitting on top of the truck and needed to be reached by a life raft.
Crews pulled him from the roof and transported him to safety. The son crawled through the truck's window and was able to walk through the river to dry land.
Both men were evaluated by medics and neither was injured.
The truck would not be able to be moved for days. Howell said firefighters would wait until waters receded to recover it. Instead, the fire department called an Uber for the father and son.
"It's not safe, any amount of water you are going to drive through you do not know how deep it is, or how fast it's moving. So, we advise people again and again don't drive through these, there is always a way around," Howell said.
The Tijuana River runs parallel to the border north of Tijuana, Mexico, and west of Interstate 5.
The river was likely engorged due to days of rainfall in San Diego County. The National Weather Service reported inches of rain had fallen in parts of the county before Thursday, with more rain on the way.
On Wednesday, two visitors from Poland became trapped in their Dodge Charger on a flooded Otay Mesa road. The two said there were no signs up when they drove through the street and the car stalled.
The swift water rescue team was prepared for such incidents. Crew members were staged in the area ready for any incidents that arise.
The National Weather Service warns drivers to always turn around if they encounter a flooded roadway. The agency says more deaths occur due to flooding than any other storm hazard.