Family struggling to contact survivor of boat wreck off San Diego coast

ORANGE COUNTY (KABC) -- Two sisters in Orange County are trying desperately to reach their brother who they say was on the boat that crashed in coastal waters near Point Loma during an apparent human-smuggling operation, killing three people and injuring more than two dozen others.

It's been a week since they last heard from their brother, 34-year-old Hector Sanchez Hernandez.

Catalina Sanchez Hernandez warned her younger brother not to cross through the desert or sea, telling him it's too dangerous.

Her brother assured Catalina he'd seek asylum. Ester Sanchez Hernandez could hear the desperation in her brother's voice.

When he arrived in Tijuana last Thursday he announced he was jumping on a boat and needed money.

RELATED: 3 killed, dozens hospitalized after boat capsizes off San Diego

Fear struck after news of the wreck off the coast of San Diego. The following day, the sisters saw a report on TV showing their brother survived.

Speaking in their native indigenous tongue, Zapoteco, the sisters say their next move is to communicate with their brother.

Catalina guesses her brother left their small hometown because indigenous communities have no protection and crime is on the rise. The journey forced him to leave behind his young daughter and wife.

The alleged captain of the boat made his initial court appearance Thursday. According to a complaint filed in San Diego federal court, 39-year-old Antonio Hurtado, a U.S. citizen, was steering the vessel that crashed about 50 yards from the shore around 10 a.m. Sunday. He's accused of smuggling the group in.

During Hurtado's brief court appearance, the U.S. Attorney's Office moved to have him detained on the basis that he was a flight risk and danger to the community. A Tuesday detention hearing was scheduled, during which attorneys will argue whether his custodial status should be changed.

Most of the 28 surviving migrants are citizens of Mexico and one is from Guatemala, according to the complaint. They agreed to pay between $15,000 and $18,500 to be smuggled into the U.S.

The complaint also states Hector Sanchez Hernandez and most of the survivors are under the custody of the Department of Justice. Eyewitness News has reached out to find out how families can contact their loved ones, but has not heard back.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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