As the U.S. Coast Guard continues to search for people who may have drifted out to sea after their boat capsized early Wednesday morning, the death toll continues to rise.
At least nine have died -- including a young infant -- after the boat, carrying nearly 30 people, capsized in the cool seas about 15 miles off the coast of Boynton Beach.
16 boat passengers, many of whom were unconscious and unresponsive, were airlifted to area hospitals last night, U.S. Coast Guard officials said.
Coast Guard officials think the boat was heavily overloaded and part of a smuggling operation that had just left the Bahamas.
"It was very overloaded," said Capt. Jim Fitton of the Coast Guard. "Smugglers are not interested in a person's welfare. They are interested in making money."
Fitton said eight of the survivors were wearing life jackets and the others had to tread water for more than 10 hours before they were discovered by chance Wednesday by another boat about 15 miles off the coast.
"A lot of those people were out there treading water for a long time," Coast Guard Petty Officer Nick Ameen said.
Coast Guard spokeswoman Marilyn Fajardo said the Coast Guard has recovered 26 people from the water, and five of those were unresponsive. People were being flown to a local hospital. Authorities were in the process of recovering the rest and searching for others who may have drifted out into the Atlantic Ocean.
The boat flipped about 2 a.m. but the Coast Guard didn't learn about it until another boater called more than 10 hours later. Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Nick Ameen said a boater initially pulled three people from the water and reported about another 25 people still awaiting rescue about 12:30 p.m. Coast Guard identified the people as Haitian and Bahamian migrants.
Rescues were taking place about 15 miles offshore and water temperatures by the afternoon were in the high 70s.
Two helicopters, a jet and three boats were involved in the rescue.