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CBP Helicopter Deploys Warning Shots to Stop Panga Boat Suspected of Smuggling Marijuana

Release Date: 
January 19, 2015

SAN DIEGO — A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Air and Marine helicopter crew successfully stopped a panga Saturday night off the coast of Santa Catalina Island loaded with likely bales of marijuana, by using warning shots fired from the helicopter after the panga initially refused to yield.

CBP OAM Midnight Express Interceptor Vessel

CBP OAM Midnight Express Interceptor Vessel

At about 10 p.m., the crew of a U.S. Coast Guard C-130 aircraft was on patrol when they spotted a suspect panga approximately 24 nautical miles off the coast of La Jolla, Calif., traveling north towards Santa Catalina Island at a high rate of speed.  The Coast Guard requested assistance from CBP San Diego Office of Air and Marine (OAM).  A CBP crew in a Blackhawk helicopter on patrol near Santa Catalina responded to the location of the panga boat, as well as the crews from two CBP OAM Midnight Express interceptor boats.

The Coast Guard aircraft remained overhead to provide additional surveillance and reporting.  As the CBP helicopter and boats were traveling towards the panga, the Coast Guard crew aboard the aircraft spotted those aboard the panga beginning to jettison large bales overboard into the water.  Shortly after 11 p.m., the CBP Blackhawk arrived at the location and closed-in on the fleeing panga.  However, the panga vessel failed to yield.

Following a very structured Airborne Disabling Fire protocol, developed to ensure there is no danger to the boating public, the CBP crew determined that it was necessary to deploy warning-shots at the vessel.  Airborne Disabling Fire uses a mounted bolt action rifle aimed and fired by a Blackhawk air crew member.  After several warning shots were deployed across the bow of the panga it immediately stopped.

CBP OAM Air Disabling Weapon System extends out Blackhawk window.

CBP OAM Air Disabling Weapon System extends out Blackhawk window

“This is the first time on the west coast that we’ve deployed warning shots from an air asset down to the water,” said Mitch Pribble, Director of Air Operations for CBP in San Diego.  “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.”

After the panga stopped, the first CBP Midnight Express vessel arrived and the crew took the three men aboard into custody.  The three men were later turned over to U.S. Border Patrol agents for processing.

The Coast Guard Cutter Pike and a MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Coast Guard Sector San Diego assisted OAM in the search for the bales thrown overboard, which likely contained marijuana. CBP seized the panga boat. 

Customs and Border Protection and the Coast Guard are member agencies of the Regional Coordinating Mechanism (ReCoM).  The ReCoM is comprised of the U.S. Coast Guard, CBP's Office of Air and Marine, Office of Field Operations, U.S. Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations and state and local law enforcement partners operating in Southern California.  The ReCoM coordinates planning and operations to target the threat of transnational crime along the coastal border.

If you have information about maritime smuggling or suspicious activity along the coast of California, please contact the Joint Harbor Operations Center at 1-800-854-9834.

Last modified: 
February 9, 2017