— Border Patrol agents found the body of a man who apparently drowned while trying to enter the United States illegally at Imperial Beach, Calif., early Saturday, officials said.
The foreign national who was part of a group wearing wetsuits and fins and using self-propelled sea scooters to reach the shore by way of the Pacific Ocean, Sgt. David Ross, with the Imperial Beach Sheriff's Station, told NBC station KNSD.
Five or six men were first seen at about 6:30 a.m., Ross said. Shortly after that, Border Patrol agents took one of the men into custody and it was that man who said he and the drowning victim had tried to enter the country from Mexico.
The other men are believed to have either run off or swam back out to sea, said Ross.
Border Patrol Agent Steven Pitts told the San Diego Union Tribune that the Border Patrol and Coast Guard have stepped up patrols along the water to keep people from dying, he said.
"They were swimming in the ocean trying to make it to the beach," Pitts said. "This underscores the dangers of trying to cross through the ocean. It's so unpredictable."
The use of sea scooters, which can dive about 15 feet under water, was reported in early February as a novelty by Reuters and other news outlets.
Two men, 38 and 16 years old, walking on a beach south of San Diego were wearing wet suits and holding their scooters when they were spotted by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter.
"These devices can be used to come north along the coastline and steer into shore ... where they can meet someone who will pick them up in a vehicle and further their entrance into the United States," said Michael Jiminez, a Border Patrol spokesperson.
At the time, he noted that once-rare attempts to cross the border by water had doubled each year since 2008 as land crossings became more difficult.
Several groups were recently arrested after traversing ocean waters in pangas, long fishing boats used in Mexico, the Union-Tribune and other news agencis reported.
On Wednesday, 19 men and a woman, ages 24 to 55, suspected of entering the country illegally by a panga boat, were taken into custody at South Carlsbad State Beach.
Eleven people trying to enter off the coast of San Onofre State Beach were arrested early Tuesday morning after Border Patrol agents spotted their panga-style boat near Camp Pendleton.
In November 2009, agents arrested 21 suspected illegal immigrants, all Mexican nationals, seen in a 15-foot panga when they came ashore on Beacon's Beach, near Encinitas. It was the third boat interception in a week.
A month earlier, a small fishing boat dropped off 20 illegal immigrants on South Ponto Beach in Carlsbad, officials said.