Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne died Sunday after a "suspicious" boat rammed his small vessel.

Story highlights

Coast Guardsmen spot a suspicious panga boat near Santa Cruz Island, California

Suspicious boat speeds up and hits a small Coast Guard boat, sending two overboard

One of those Coast Guardsmen dies of a traumatic head injury

The suspect boat is later interdicted, and two people are detained

CNN  — 

A Coast Guardsman died Sunday after a “suspicious” boat rammed his small vessel off the coast of Southern California, an official said.

Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne was one of two Coast Guard members thrown off their cutter’s small boat when the suspect’s panga-style vessel “suddenly increased speed and maneuvered directly” at them, then struck the boat, said Capt. James Jenkins. Having a traumatic head injury, Horne was pronounced dead by emergency medical personnel upon his arrival on shore at Port Hueneme.

“Chief Petty Officer Horne was an outstanding Coast Guard member,” Jenkins said. “And he gave his life in service, enforcing the laws of this nation.”

The crew of a Coast Guard patrol aircraft spotted the panga-style boat near Santa Cruz Island, suspecting “it was engaged in illegal activity,” said Jenkins, who did not elaborate on the type of activity. A panga is a work boat often used off the coast of Mexico or Central America that is engine-powered and typically 25 to 45 feet in length, the Coast Guard captain explained.

The aircraft’s crew alerted the captain of the Cutter Halibut, an 87-foot patrol boat, which headed to the scene and noticed the panga “operating with no lights.” A small boat was dispatched from the Halibut and headed closer to the suspect vessel.

Then, the panga accelerated and hit the small boat, forcing Horne and another Coast Guard member overboard. Two Coast Guard colleagues on the same small boat “quickly” recovered their shipmates, and all four boarded the Halibut as it headed to the nearest port.

The other Coast Guardsman tossed overboard was treated and released later Sunday morning from a hospital after suffering “relatively minor injuries,” Jenkins said.

The panga boat fled the scene but was later interdicted by a different Coast Guard boat and helicopter, he added. Two people were then detained, the Coast Guard said in a news release, without specifying any charges.

“The Coast Guard, along with its law enforcement partners at the federal, state and local level, are actively working to make sure all of the individuals who are involved with this illegal activity are brought to justice,” Jenkins said.