A woman died Thursday morning following a crash between a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) vessel and a boat carrying 20 people suspected of trying to enter the country illegally, officials said.
CBP officials with the agency's Office of Air and Marine spotted the panga off the coast of Encinitas and believed it was filled with people being smuggled into the United States, said Jackie Wasiluk, a spokeswoman for the CBP.
Agents said they ordered the person operating the 26-foot-long boat to stop, but the vessel did not yield, so agents fired warning shots.
The suspected smuggling boat then collided with the CBP boat, causing the panga to capsize.
As agents worked to pull all 20 people out of the water, they began trying to resuscitate a woman who was unresponsive, Wasiluk said.
Four people, including the woman, were taken to the hospital; she died there, Wasiluk said.
Her cause of death wasn’t immediately known.
CBP authorities are investigating the incident. The panga boat is at the bottom of the ocean.
The 19 remaining people on board the panga boat were taken into custody, suspected of trying to enter the country illegally.
An immigrants rights activist told NBC 7 he questioned the CBP's version of events, specifically which boat ran into which.
"It's very unfortunate that there was a loss of life, but we also question the need to fire warning shots specifically when that might deter or scare people from actually making contact with CBP," said Pedro Rios of the American Friends Service Committee. "In this case, it's unclear who struck who, but we do know there was a fatality and that's very unfortunate."