Steve Bierman's nights are usually peaceful at his bluff-top home in Del Mar, but on Friday morning he was awakened at 4:30 a.m. by horrific screams coming from the ocean.
The avid surfer grabbed his board, scaled down the bluffs in his pajamas, and got to work trying to rescue more than a dozen people who he later found out were illegal immigrants told to jump off a boat and swim to shore.
The operation is known as a "dump and run." Smugglers enter U.S. waterways illegally on a boat filled with undocumented immigrants and "drop them off" away from the shoreline. Sometimes they have life jackets, sometimes they don't.
Luckily for the subjects of Friday morning's rescue, Bierman is also a retired emergency room doctor.
"You could hear. There were 10 voices, probably something like that, screaming desperately, just almost blood curdling," Dr. Bierman said.
The darkness or the rough waters weren't enough to stop him.
"As I was running down I was thinking, either some people will have floated up on the beach and I could do CPR or I’ll go out and grab as many as I can," he said.
When he got down to the beach, he said he saw people soaking wet looking out to the water helplessly. He could still hear screams coming from the ocean.
"I was able to get him, get him to the back of my board. And paddle him into the surf line and let him rest," Bierman said.
Bierman and first responders rescued 13 people total, and life guards spent the entire day searching for the bodies of three other people believed to have drowned in the operation. None were found.
Bierman was adamant he not be referred to as a hero. He said when he became a doctor he swore on oath to help people in need, no matter the circumstances, and that's all he was doing.
The U.S. Border Patrol said Encinitas lifeguards rescued three people by boat while 10 others were already onshore when first responders arrived.
The rescuees, all Mexican nationals, were taken to areas hospitals with mild hypothermia.
Among the group were a 15-year-old girl, and 13- and 15-year-old boys. The rest were adults -- two women and three men -- and all were believed to be from Mexico, Border Patrol said.
As of the 2020 fiscal year, the San Diego Sector Border Patrol has apprehended 368 people who've tried to enter the U.S. illegally by water.
Authorities believe the boat involved in the incident and two suspected smugglers returned to Mexico.