Three French patrol boats and a French helicopter and a British helicopter were searching the area for other victims, according to the French maritime agency for the region.
A French naval boat spotted several bodies in the water and retrieved an unidentified number of dead and multiple injured, including some who were unconscious, a maritime authority spokesperson said.
Franck Dhersin, a vice president for the surrounding region, tweeted that 24 dead bodies were pulled from the water after a boat carrying about 50 migrants had sunk. But he didn't provide a source, and maritime authorities and local police said the total number of dead remains unclear.
While deaths are occasionally reported on the crossing, such a large number of people losing their lives in one boat would be exceptional.
“Strong emotion after the drama of numerous dead in the sinking of a boat of migrants in the Channel,” Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin tweeted. He slammed migrant trafficking networks who organize such journeys and headed to a Calais hospital to see the victims.
The nationalities of the victims weren't immediately released.
The number of migrants using small boats to cross the Channel has grown sharply this year, despite the high risks that are worsening in autumn weather.
The waterway with changeable weather, cold seas and heavy maritime traffic is dangerous for the inflatables and other small boats that men, women and children squeeze into for attempted crossings.
French and British authorities have picked up thousands of migrants off both the French and British coasts in recent weeks in scores of rescue operations. Deaths occasionally occur, but are rare.
Follow AP’s global migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration
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