3 killed, 23 hospitalized as suspected smuggling boat capsizes off San Diego

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Wreckage and debris from a capsized boat washes ashore at Cabrillo National Monument near where a boat capsized just off the San Diego coast Sunday, May 2, 2021, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

SAN DIEGO – A packed boat suspected of being used in a human smuggling operation capsized and broke apart in powerful surf along the rocky San Diego coast, killing three people and injuring more than two dozen others, authorities said.

Lifeguards, the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies responded Sunday following reports of an overturned vessel in the waves near the rugged peninsula of Point Loma, according to the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.

The original call was for a handful of people overboard but as rescuers arrived in boats and Jet Skis they quickly realized “it was going to be a bigger situation with more people,” said San Diego Lifeguard Services Lt. Rick Romero.

“There are people in the water, drowning, getting sucked out the rip current there,” he said.

People were pulled from the water and others made it to shore on their own.

The Coast Guard searched overnight and suspended the work Monday, saying 32 people had been accounted for. Three were declared dead and 29 were alive, including one who remained hospitalized in critical condition.

The local coroner's offices listed the dead as a 41-year-old woman, a 35-year-old woman and a man of unknown age. No identities were released.

“Once we arrived on scene, the boat had basically been broken apart,” Romero said. “Conditions were pretty rough: 5 to 6 feet of surf, windy, cold.”