SUV that plunged into California river found, bodies identified

LEGGETT, Calif. — Crews searching for a family whose vehicle plunged into a rain-swollen Northern California river more than a week ago have found the sport utility vehicle and the bodies of a man and a girl inside, authorities said Monday.

Searchers located the car Sunday in the Eel River and recovered the bodies of Sandeep Thottapilly, 41, and Saachi Thottapilly, 9, the Mendocino County sheriff’s office said in a statement.

The body of a woman found in the river last Friday has been identified as Soumya Thottapilly, 38, the statement said. The couple’s 12-year-old son, Sidhhanty Thottapilly, remains missing.

About 70 searchers combed the area of the crash Sunday, including more than 20 crew members searching the water with Jet Skis, boats and kayaks, the office said.

A team on a boat smelled gasoline about half a mile downstream from where the crash was reported and found the SUV.

It was encased in sediment from the river current, but divers were able to feel a person inside. Crews partially removed the car with a tow truck and recovered the bodies, the sheriff’s office said.

Soumya Thottapilly was found in an area previously covered with water from the storm-swollen river.

The family members were traveling from Portland, Oregon, to their home in the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Clarita. They were reported missing April 8 after failing to show up for a visit with relatives in San Jose.

A poster shared by friends and family on Facebook said their last known location was the “Klamath-Redwood National Park area.”

The Klamath River and a string of state and federal redwood parks lie along U.S. 101, north of where motorists saw the vehicle fall into the Eel River.

A powerful storm dropped 2 to 5 inches of rain the day the family went missing.

Farther south, authorities were still looking for the missing members of a different family whose SUV plunged off a towering ocean bluff along the Pacific Coast Highway last month.

Sarah and Jennifer Hart and their six adopted children were believed to be in the SUV at the time. Authorities say they believe the crash was intentional.

Five bodies were found March 26 near Mendocino, a few days after Washington state authorities began investigating the Harts for possible child neglect. Three of the children have not been found. A body was pulled from the surf April 7 but has not been identified.

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