updated 6/28/2007 12:38:36 AM ET 2007-06-28T04:38:36

An illegal immigrant drowned in a canal Wednesday after a U.S. Border Patrol agent trying to rescue him was hit in the head with a rock thrown by a suspected human smuggler, Border Patrol officials said.

The agent, who was not identified, fired at least one shot at the suspected smuggler and another would-be immigrant, who fled back into Mexico, patrol spokesman Patrick Berry said. The agent suffered a 3-inch gash in his head, but the injury was not life-threatening.

Agents watching video feed from a border camera saw at least three men coming through a hole in a border fence east of downtown El Paso shortly after noon, Berry said. As agents arrived, an immigrant fell into the mocha-colored canal water and was quickly dragged under by the swift current, Berry said.

While one agent tried to help the drowning man, the suspected smuggler started hurling rocks, hitting the agent in the head at least once. The agent then fired, and the suspected smuggler and the other man fled, Berry said.

It was unclear whether either of the fleeing men were shot.

The drowned man’s body was found in the canal about 4½ miles east of where he underwater, Berry said. The shooting is under investigation.

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