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15 illegal immigrants found stranded on Santa Cruz Island

July 11, 2011 |  7:53 am

Aerial view of Santa Cruz Island on Oct. 7, 2010.

Stranded on a scenic but rugged island, a group of illegal immigrants chose being rescued over making it to their destination, Coast Guard officials said Monday.

Santa-cruz-island The 15 immigrants from Mexico somehow ended up on Santa Cruz Island, said U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Eggers.

On Friday, one of them called 911 on a cellphone, telling the Santa Barbara Highway Patrol that four people were stranded. The Coast Guard could not find anyone during an initial search.

But around noon Sunday a vessel found four people on the island. About five hours later the Coast Guard arrived and found a total of 15 immigrants, some hiding among the scrub.

“They were stranded and couldn’t get to the mainland,” Eggers said. “It was a situation where they chose life over the possible ramifications of making that phone call.”

The 14 men and one woman were rescued by a Coast Guard MH-65 helicopter and the cutter Blackfin.

Eggers said investigators from U.S. Customs and Border Protection would investigate how the immigrants ended up on the island.

He said it was unclear whether they were abandoned on the island by a smuggler or perhaps mechanical issues with a boat caused them to be left there.

“They had gone a few days without food” but were in relatively good shape, Eggers said.

He said it seemed more immigrants were being smuggled further up north.

“I’m assuming they think we only patrol San Diego or along the border, which is really not the case,” Eggers said.

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-- Hector Becerra

Photo: An aerial view of Santa Cruz Island. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

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