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DHS agencies, US Navy rally to rescue 19 shipwrecked on San Clemente Island

The U.S. Border Patrol’s Border Search, Trauma, and Rescue team assisted federal partners during a search and rescue event Wednesday. (CBP photo/Released)

The U.S. Border Patrol’s Border Search, Trauma, and Rescue (BORSTAR) team assisted federal partners during a search and rescue event Wednesday.  It began when a boat carrying 19 undocumented aliens became disabled Tuesday night near San Clemente Island.

At approximately 6:45 p.m. on Tuesday, San Diego’s Joint Harbor Operation Center received a phone call indicating that four individuals had swam ashore at the Naval Auxiliary Landing Field on San Clemente Island.  The island, which is a key research and development facility, supports naval tactical training and is home to a live firing range.

Upon questioning, the four people were identified as passengers on a panga boat being used for human smuggling.  Their boat had become inoperable when the engine caught on fire and they swam to shore.  The four people also indicated that several other passengers had paddled the damaged panga to the island’s shore and disembarked.

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and BORSTAR agents were contacted to assist with transportation and a search for the remaining people on the island.  On Wednesday, at approximately 6:30 a.m., the USCG launched a helicopter to conduct a first-light search for additional people. At approximately 7:30 a.m., a USCG Cutter arrived at San Clemente Island and discovered that an additional three people in the group had been located by U.S. Navy personnel.  By 2 p.m., USCG and U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operations helicopters had transported six BORSTAR agents and two search and rescue canines to assist with the search.

By 5 p.m. on Wednesday, a total of 19 people had been located.  The group consisted of 16 men and three women, all between the ages of 17 and 45, and all Mexican nationals illegally present in the U.S.  One man in the group complained of abdominal pain and was flown to the Naval Air Station North Island, then transported to a local hospital for further treatment.  An additional four people in the group were treated by BORSTAR agents for minor injuries.

The remaining 18 undocumented aliens on San Clemente Island were transported to Ballast Point and turned over to U.S. Border Patrol agents for processing.  Two men in the group face alien smuggling charges.

“I am proud of the collaboration and professionalism demonstrated during this life-saving, multi-agency rescue operation,” said Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Heitke. “Dangerous maritime smuggling attempts like this are indicative of smugglers’ callousness and disregard for human life.”