The Coast News Group
Border Patrol agents along with Vessel Assist stand near a panga boat that came ashore early Tuesday morning near Ponto Beach. Two of the vessel’s passengers were arrested, a third attempted to flee by swimming back into the ocean, which prompted a search and rescue effort. Photo by Tony Cagala
Crime Rancho Santa Fe

Panga boat seized in Carlsbad, $4 million in marijuana captured

CARLSBAD — Three people were approaching the shore at a high rate of speed near Ponto State Beach in a panga boat early Tuesday morning. Border Patrol agents saw the vessel approaching and intervened, arresting two while a third individual fled back to sea, where a rescue search is currently underway.

“As the panga boat approached the shore, they (Border Patrol agents) observed three individuals disembarking the vessel. As they approached the vessel, the three individuals began to flee from them into the water,” said Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Steven Pitts

Two individuals were arrested as they came back to shore; a third individual never came ashore, said Pitts.

“Agents approached the panga boat and discovered 2,938 pounds of what appeared to be narcotics, a green, leafy substance that was later confirmed to be marijuana. The marijuana has a street value of over $4 million,” Pitts said.

The two arrested were taken to a local hospital where they were treated for hypothermia.

The search was continuing as of 12:30 p.m. with four personal watercrafts searching the surf line and a U.S. Coast Guard boat. A Coast Guard helicopter was being utilized early in the search, but later replaced by law enforcement’s ASTREA helicopter, according to Carlsbad Fire Department Battalion Chief Mike Calderwood.

“For now we are looking at the coastline from Ponto to about Cardiff,” Calderwood said.

A panga boat with three passengers speeds ashore early Tuesday morning. Two of the passengers were arrested, a third fled back to sea where a search and rescue effort is underway. Photo by Tony Cagala

The search is being conducted as far as a mile out to sea.

“Some of the factors that we’re looking at is about 4 to 5 foot surf; we have a current that is pulling southwards at a medium to strong rate,” Calderwood added.

With the Coast Guard establishing the survivability factor based on air and water temperatures, Calderwood said the search would continue until about 1 to 2 p.m. “If we haven’t found an individual by then, we’ll scale the search back, probably eliminate air resources, maybe cut the water resources in half, or more,” he added.

State and Encinitas lifeguards are monitoring the beaches.

The two arrested have since been turned over to the Border Patrol where they’re being questioned.

According to a Border Patrol release the men were determined to be Mexican nationals.

At this time, there’s no known connection between this smuggling attempt and Monday’s attempt in Del Mar.

The boat has been seized by the U.S. Customs and Border Protections and will be taken to a storage area and destroyed.

“This shows once again the dangers of trying to smuggle in the maritime environment. The ocean is so unpredictable and people can lose their lives,” Pitts said.

Carlsbad Police released a statement at 1:15 p.m., saying the rescue efforts have since become a recovery operation based on exceeding the maximum estimated time a person could survive in current conditions.


1 comment

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