Black Hawk helicopter tails ‘load' vehicle in chase through Valley

June 07, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

A U.S. Customs Service Black Hawk helicopter aided in the pursuit of a "load" vehicle through the Imperial Valley this morning that ended with one smuggler being arrested and 21 undocumented immigrants being taken into custody.

U.S. Customs spokesman Vince Bond said a Customs Black Hawk was in the Valley on a "discreet" mission with the U.S. Border Patrol.

U.S. Border Patrol Agent Manuel Figueroa said at times the two federal agencies join in patrolling the desert. He said a Border Patrol agent was on the helicopter with the Customs crew.

Around 4:45 a.m. those in the helicopter using night-vision goggles spotted a vehicle cross the border just west of the Imperial Sand Dunes near the Midway campground.


The helicopter crew radioed to the Border Patrol and together the helicopter crew and Border Patrol agents followed the vehicle.

Bond said those in the Black Hawk initially did not know whether the vehicle was smuggling people or drugs.

Figueroa said Border Patrol agents did not pursue the vehicle, a pickup reported stolen, because the vehicle was driving at a high speed.

Instead, agents followed the vehicle from a distance and depended on the helicopter to maintain visual contact.

The vehicle was driven on Interstate 8 and then made its way to the North County area near Brawley.

In the Brawley area the truck stopped and those who had been inside tried to run.

Figueroa said the helicopter maintained visual contact and when Border Patrol agents arrived they took into custody one individual alleged to be a smuggler and 21 illegal immigrants.

Specific information on the smuggler was unavailable this morning.

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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