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Coast Guard member killed in southern California smuggling interdiction

Santa Cruz Island

One U. S. Coast Guard member was killed and another injured after a smuggler’s “panga” boat smashed into a Coast Guard interdiction boat in the early morning hours of Dec. 2 off Santa Cruz Island, California.

DHS identified the crew member killed as U.S. Coast Guard Boatswains Mate Chief Terrell Horne.

The Coast Guard said the incident remains under investigation.

"I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of U.S. Coast Guard Boatswains Mate Chief Terrell Horne during a counter-drug operation yesterday morning near Santa Cruz Island, California,” said DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano in a Dec. 3 statement.  “BMC Horne and his fellow crew members of the USCG Cutter Halibut were engaged in an at-sea interdiction when they came under threat by a small vessel that rammed their small boat.  This tragedy reminds us of the dangers our men and women in uniform face every day, and the great risks they willingly take, as they protect our nation.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of BMC Horne and all of our Coast Guard personnel at this difficult time."

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of our shipmate. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends, and his shipmates aboard Coast Guard Cutter Halibut,” said Coast Guard Commandant, Admiral Robert Papp. “We are focused on supporting them during this very difficult time. Our fallen shipmate stood the watch on the front lines protecting our nation and we are all indebted to him for his service and sacrifice.  Finally, I commend the responding Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection units whose quick actions led to the successful interdiction and apprehension of those believed to be involved.”

The deadly incident occurred, said the Coast Guard in a Dec. 2 statement, when Cutter Halibut, was investigating a panga-type vessel suspected of illicit activities. Pangas are fast, low-slung, small boats used increasingly by smugglers along California’s coast to smuggle drugs and people into the state from Mexico.

Santa Cruz Island is one of California’s channel islands just off the coast of Santa Barbara, north of Los Angeles. It is in Santa Barbara County.

The vessel in the Dec. 2 incident, said the Coast Guard, was initially detected by one of its maritime patrol aircraft in the area.

Cutter Halibut, it said, deployed its small boat which made an approach on the suspect vessel, which was operating without any navigational running lights or other illumination, or “running darkened ship.” The Coast Guard said when its small boat approached with its blue law enforcement lights flashing, the suspect vessel, identified to be a profile Mexican-style panga, maneuvered at a high rate of speed directly towards the Coast Guard small boat and struck it before fleeing the scene.

According to the Coast Guard, at impact, two of its members were thrown from the small boat into the water, but both were immediately recovered by the small boat. Upon recovery it appeared one member sustained a traumatic head injury and the other had minor injuries.

The cutter crew quickly recovered the small boat and boarding team, and immediately administered first aid to the injured crewmembers, it said and the cutter made its way to Port Hueneme, CA, where emergency medical service units met the vessel at the pier, pronouncing one injured crew member dead.

The Coast Guard said additional assets in the area were able to stop the fleeing panga, however, and detained two suspects.


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