- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Four Mexican nationals drowned in the Rio Grande near Del Rio, Texas, despite the efforts — which were caught on camera — of two U.S. Border Patrol agents who risked their lives to save the men.

The remote Border Patrol surveillance camera, one of several along the Rio Grande, shows the four men trying to stand upright in the shallow, but fast-moving river in an area between Del Rio and the Amistad Reservoir, about 125 miles west of San Antonio, but eventually slipping — one by one — off a weir and being swept away.

The incident occurred March 31 at about 7:20 p.m., but was made public yesterday after a Border Patrol investigation.

Agency spokesman Mario Villarreal said yesterday that the Mexicans were walking arm in arm across the river in what he called a “treacherous attempt” to enter the United States, saying the river at that point rushes out of a dam upstream.

Mr. Villarreal said that after slipping in the current, the men reorganized in a single file and walked along the top of the slippery weir as water rushed across it. Their plight was observed by a Border Patrol agent monitoring the agency’s Remote Video Surveillance System (RVSS) at the Del Rio station, who dispatched agents to the area.

Mr. Villarreal said the agents lay on their stomachs at the edge of the dam and extended their arms over a concrete wall to reach the men. The spokesman said the agents, whose identities were not released, also tried to extend bamboo poles to the men.

Roberto Canseco, Mexican consul in Del Rio, told reporters that the videotape was beyond anything he could imagine, describing it as “very sad.”

A binational, multiagency search-and-rescue effort was initiated immediately to locate the men — including a helicopter, boats and a swift-water-rescue specialist, Mr. Villarreal said. The bodies were recovered later, two on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande and two on the Mexican side.

The weir, built in the river to slow the flow of water, is less than a mile north of the Del Rio International Bridge.

The RVSS is part of an effort by the Border Patrol, and its parent agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to better secure areas between the ports of entry by implementing a comprehensive border-enforcement strategy and expanding, integrating and coordinating the use of technology and communications.

The RVSS provides coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week to detect illegal crossers on the northern and southern borders. The system uses 200-foot-tall towers capped with three cameras — a daytime color, low-light black and white, and infrared — all with huge lenses that can focus on targets up to five miles away and distinguish a person’s sex, body type, age and clothing color.

One of the first such systems was installed in September 2002 at the Del Rio station.

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