At least seven of the eight migrants who died after two smuggling vessels capsized off the coast of southern California over the weekend were Mexican nationals, the Mexican consulate in San Diego said Monday.
An estimated 15 migrants were on one vessel and eight migrants were on the other, a person said in a 911 call shortly before midnight on Saturday. Both vessels had capsized by the time first responders arrived at Black’s Beach, which is about 15 miles north of San Diego.
The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, Border Patrol, and the Coast Guard pulled the bodies of eight migrants from the water before the search was suspended on Sunday afternoon. It’s unclear how many migrants, if any, made it to shore.
Seven of the deceased migrants were identified as Mexican nationals based off identification documents they were carrying.
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The Mexican consulate in San Diego said that family members will be notified as soon as autopsies are completed and their identities are confirmed.
The eighth deceased person’s country of origin is unknown. All the victims were adults.
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James Gartland, chief of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department’s lifeguards, called the incident “one of the worst maritime smuggling tragedies” in California’s history, explaining that the area where the vessels capsized is deceptively hazardous.
“It has a series of sandbars and in-shore rip currents, so you can think that you can land in some sand or get to waist-high, knee-high water, and think that you’re able to be safe to exit the water, but there’s long, in-shore holes,” Gartland said on Sunday. “So If you step into those holes, those rip currents will pull you along the shore and back out to sea.”