The U.S. Coast Guard pulled 23 people from a panga early Monday off the coast of Point Loma in San Diego after the boat got itself stuck in the surf line. The people onboard were all in the U.S. illegally, officials confirmed.
The panga was spotted just before 2:50 a.m. by a U.S. Border Patrol agent using a vehicle-based video surveillance system, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said. The agent could see there were multiple people on board as the panga made its way across the water west of Point Loma.
The USCG sent a small boat out to the area that was able to contact the panga west of Sunset Cliffs. The Coast Guard told the captain of the panga to stop.
USCG Petty Officer Alex Gray said the panga's captain refused to listen and kept moving toward the shore. The captain got the boat stuck in the surf line near Osprey Point around Sunset Cliffs, officials said.
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The CBP said officials thought the panga might capsize, so San Diego Lifeguards and San Diego Harbor Police were called to help.
The USCG was able to pull 23 people off the panga and onto the USCGC Robert Ward – 20 men and three women. All 23 people were immigrants in the U.S. illegally, the CBP confirmed.
No one was hurt.
Flashing lights could be seen at the horizon from the shore, coming from officials as they searched the panga and water for any other passengers. A helicopter circled above.
The Coast Guard towed the panga to San Diego Lifeguard headquarters and Border Patrol agents interviewed the people who were on the panga.
The CBP said the migrants were turned over to U.S. Border Patrol for processing and the CBP Air and Marine Operations took hold of the panga.
The investigation is ongoing. Check back for updates on this developing story.
This is the second such incident involving a boat filled with migrants off the coast of Point Loma this month. On May 2, three people died and 29 (including the captain) were rescued from the choppy waters when a packed boat used in a suspected human smuggling attempt capsized and broke apart in the surf.
In that incident, the boat being used was a 40-foot cabin cruiser, not your typical panga, officials said.
The man accused of piloting the boat in the deadly May 2 crash is U.S. citizen Antonio Hurtado, who appeared in court last week.