IMPERIAL BEACH, Calif. — Seven people were rescued, and at least two people died Saturday morning after the panga boat they were on capsized off the coast of Imperial Beach, according to officials.
"A scene like that is initially chaotic. Everyone is trying to make rescues. There were a lot of surfers. Waves were 4-6 feet. That's a pretty extreme surf this morning which contributed greatly to victims suffering so badly," said Imperial Beach Fire Rescue Captain Patrick Spears.
Border Patrol initially responded to reports of an attempted smuggling mission around 6 a.m. just off the coast of Imperial Beach, which prompted a significant response and a command post to be established at Seacoast Drive & Cortez Avenue, Imperial Beach Fire Chief John French told CBS 8.
Dramatic video from OnScene.TV captured several first responders from San Diego Lifeguards and Fire-Rescue, Chula Vista Fire Department, Imperial Beach Fire-Rescue, and law enforcement officers with Harbor Police, San Diego Sheriff’s Department, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection – a massive joint operation to rescue people stranded in chilling water temperatures.
Video also showed one person in CPR status, lying on the shoreline.
Despite lifesaving attempts, San Diego Sheriff’s confirmed two people died on the scene.
Nine people total were pulled from the frigid waters, and of the nine people, two died on the shoreline.
Eyewitnesses said surfers in the water jumped into action to assist first responders with the rescue.
"We got in when the authorities were bringing in the bodies up off the beach, up from the water where it got very real for me because when they brought the first body up, an arm fell out of the covering and I was like 'This isn’t fantasy. this is real. That is somebody's daughter right there.' That hits you," said an eyewitness Ron Stewart who lives nearby. "We see stuff on TV all the time and it kind of desensitizes you but when you see that, that just made it very real for me. It's a big wave of sadness for their families."
Chief John said a tenth person was suspected missing in the water, but that has yet to be confirmed.
This rescue occurred just a week after an abandoned panga boat washed ashore on Pacific Beach on November 21, and even more notably, after three people were killed and more than two dozen others were rescued when a human smuggling operation attempted to access the Point Loma shoreline of San Diego in May 2021.
WATCH RELATED: What is a panga boat? (2021)