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Warning Shots Fired at Panga Boat From CBP Helicopter off CA Coast

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) helicopter fired warning shots Saturday night at suspected drug smugglers operating a panga boat off the coast of La Jolla, California, forcing the boat to stop and surrender to authorities.

U.S. Coast Guard spotted the panga around 10 p.m. Saturday night and requested CBP San Diego Office of Air and Marine (OAM) assistance in stopping it. The Coast Guard followed the panga for surveillance and observed large bales being thrown overboard.

A CBP helicopter crew responded in a Blackhawk helicopter just after 11 p.m., closing in on the suspected smugglers. The panga vessel failed to yield, prompting the CBP helicopter crew to deploy carefully structured warning shots using Airborne Disabling Fire protocol. The protocol is designed to ensure the public faces no danger, according to a a CBP release.

Several warning shots effectively convinced the vessel’s operator to stop off the coast of Santa Catalina Island.

“This is the first time on the west coast that we’ve deployed warning shots from an air asset down to the water,” Mitch Pribble, Director of Air Operations for CBP in San Diego said in the CBP release. “You always want a vessel to stop when they are first directed to do so.  However, when a suspected criminal chooses to flee, the ability to fire those warning shots gives us another option that can be used to get them to stop before they become a greater danger to law enforcement personnel, innocent civilians on the water, and themselves.”

Two CBP OAM Midnight Express interceptor boats responded as well, the first of which arrived shortly after the panga stopped. CBP OAM Midnight Express boat crewmembers took three men aboard the panga into custody. The three suspected drug smugglers were turned over to U.S. Border Patrol agents for processing.

Coast Guard Cutter Pike and Jayhawk helicopter crews assisted CBP OAM in the search for the tossed bales, which likely contained marijuana. CBP confiscated the panga boat.

Follow Michelle Moons on Twitter @MichelleDiana

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