'I have to help,' says sailor who rescued migrants at sea

A Navy sailor says he never thought twice about diving into treacherous waters off the San Diego coast after a boat overloaded with migrants capsized over the weekend

Via AP news wire
Wednesday 05 May 2021 03:22 BST
CORRECTION Capsized Boat Smuggled Immigrants
CORRECTION Capsized Boat Smuggled Immigrants (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Cale Foy had just started hiking with his wife and three kids as they do every Sunday when he noticed what he thought was an abandoned fishing vessel approaching the rocky, wind-swept San Diego coastline as 5-to-8-foot (1.5-2.4-meter) waves were crashing.

A moment later a wave slammed the boat and Foy saw it hit the rocks, and then people tossed into the rough sea. About a minute later, he could see the boat was in pieces.

“All of a sudden we see people jumping into the waves and on top of the rocks and it was: ‘I have to be there. I have to help,'" Foy said.

The Navy rescue swimmer immediately started running toward the shore in what would become the most dramatic rescue mission of his 17-year career: A migrant smuggling boat overloaded with 32 people on board had flipped and smashed apart as its passengers plunged into the treacherous waters.

Three people were killed and two Mexican migrants remain hospitalized, including one in serious condition, said Carlos Gutierrez Gonzalez, Mexico’s consul general in San Diego.

All but two people on the boat were Mexican citizens without legal status in the U.S. The others were a Guatemalan citizen without legal status in the U.S. and a U.S. citizen who was identified as the pilot, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said. They ranged in age from 15 to 40. Among the 28 in CBP custody were a 15-year-old boy traveling alone and 21 men and six women.

Foy and another young sailor who was also out hiking and is in basic training as a Navy SEAL recruit were among the first to respond to the accident Sunday.

“We saw a lot of debris and a lot of people still in the water and nobody was out there helping other than two or three of the park rangers and there were three of four civilians in about ankle-deep water trying to get people out as well,” Foy said. “There was a lot of people without life preservers.”

Foy, who teaches water rescue for the Navy, asked the sailor if he was comfortable and a strong enough swimmer to get past the high surf. He assured him he was. The two stood for a second on a rise to see what was happening and then quickly drew up what he called the “game plan.”

“We could hear people frantic, kind of chaos, screaming,” Foy said, adding that the cries for help were muffled by the sound of the waves crashing onto the rocks.

Once they reached the shore, Foy asked another man standing there to direct them to the people after they swam past the pounding surf.

Foy and the sailor then helped two migrants who managed to swim to the shore before they plowed into the chilly water. Wearing a t-shirt, pants and hiking boots, Foy ran into the waves and then took a chance and dove under, praying that he would not be slammed into rocks below.

After Foy and the SEAL recruit got past the surf, they came upon a large piece of the boat's cabin and grabbed it to rest.

Foy then gave the SEAL recruit a quick lesson in how to rescue people at sea, cautioning him that people panic and pull rescuers under the water. He suggested pulling them from behind by their preservers or clothing toward the wreckage, where they could hold on until rescue boats arrived.

Then the two headed toward the screams.

They helped three men who survived get to the wreckage.

Then Foy saw a woman face down in the water, wearing a life preserver. She was unconscious.

Foy used his body to keep her head out of the water, carrying her on his chest as he swam toward the floating debris. He placed her on that and then pulled it toward a lifeguard boat that had arrived.

He got her into the boat, hopped in and started CPR on her as they rolled over the waves.

Foy traveled with the lifeguard boat back to land and continued to do CPR.

Despite his efforts, she died, he said.

Foy stayed for another two hours on the dock, helping tend to people brought in on the lifeguard boats.

In the end, Foy and the SEAL recruit got six migrants to the floating wreckage. Four of them survived.

“We just jumped in and helped out with what we could," Foy said.


AP writer Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.

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