LEGGETT, Mendocino County (CBS SF) — The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday said recovered debris and personal items confirm that a vehicle seen plunging into a storm-swollen river last week belonged to a family that went missing.
Sandeep Thottapilly, his wife and two children have not been heard from since late last week when they were in Klamath-Redwood National Park area in Northern California. They had been on a spring break road trip, traveling home on Highway 101 from Portland to Santa Clarita.
The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office and the California Highway Patrol have been working since last week to locate and recover the vehicle the family was traveling in that reportedly crashed into the Eel River on Friday afternoon at the height of last week’s storm.
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.
While water levels at the time the accident was initially reported were initially too high and conditions too unsafe in the wake of the storm for water rescue operations, this week levels 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.
The vehicle and the vehicle’s occupants have still not been found in the Eel River, according to authorities.
On Wednesday, CHP said they located car parts that may have been from the family’s vehicle.
Family members said the Thottapillys were traveling in a maroon 2016 Honda Pilot with California license plate number of 7MMX138.
In Santa Clarita, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Warren said investigators were working to obtain search warrants for cellphone carriers to see where the family members’ phones last pinged.
At the family home in Southern California, a single candle sits on the porch, burning in hopes the homeowners will be able to blow it out upon their safe return.
“It is very tough. The responsibility is felt,” said Wunderlich. “We are doing everything within our power to locate this vehicle and to bring some closure to whoever the occupants may be.”
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.