LEGGETT, Mendocino County (CBS SF) — The body of an adult female has been discovered along a Northern California river by teams searching for a missing family whose SUV crashed into the rain-swollen waterway last week, authorities said Friday.
Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman originally said the body was that of a young child, but corrected the information when the rescue team from Humboldt County returned with the remains.
Authorities said the remains were found on exposed terrain which appeared to have covered by the Eel River within the last few days as a result of a recent rainstorm. It was 7 miles from the crash site.
The announcement came during a Sheriff’s Office news conference updating reporters on their efforts to locate Southern California resident Sandeep Thottapilly, his wife and two children whose SUV is believed to have plunged into the Eel River.
On Thursday, deputies said they had recovered debris and personal items along the river belonging to the family.
The family from Santa Clarita have not been heard from since late last week when they were in Klamath-Redwood National Park area in Northern California. CHP Garberville Commander Randy England said the family checked out of a Holiday Inn at 10 a.m.
The Thottapillys had been on a spring break road trip, traveling home on Highway 101 from Portland to Santa Clarita during a driving rainstorm. They were reported missing when they failed to arrive at a relative’s home in San Jose for a Friday stopover.
The California Highway Patrol said that witnesses have told them they saw a SUV matching the description of the one owned by the Thottapilly family rolled through a highway pullout, slam into trees as it went down a 150-foot embankment and crash into the swift-moving waters of the Eel River.
“It (the SUV) did not come to a complete stop (as it got to the end of the pullout),” England told reporters. “It was cloudy and pouring rain. We had quite the storm going on.”
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Sheriff deputies and the California Highway Patrol have been working since last week to locate and recover the vehicle.
The sheriff’s office released a statement Thursday saying that along with various personal items found that were consistent with a family traveling on vacation, there were several items positively identified by relatives as belonging to the Thottapilly family.
The items had turned up over the course of searches of the South Fork of the Eel River over the past two days, the statement said.
Water levels at the time the accident were too high and conditions too unsafe for a thorough search. This week, water levels have subsided enough to allow for a more concentrated search, the sheriff’s office said.
In addition to the insertion of Swift Water Rescue Teams to conduct a bank search, there was some limited “probing,” a technique using a long pole being probed underwater to see if the vehicle or anything metallic could be located.
The teams accessed the river in inflatable boats and using smaller floatation devices. The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office also aided in the search with the use of their jet boat with side scan sonar system. The search teams were able to cover approximately 12 miles of river bank by foot and 60 miles by helicopter.
Anyone with information about the missing family is asked to call 813-616-3091 or Detective Michelle Zanato with the San Jose Police Departments’ Missing Person’s Unit at 408-277-4786.