Authorities have found personal items linking a missing Southern California family of four to the maroon Honda Pilot that slipped off a Highway 101 turnout April 6 in Mendocino County and into the Eel River.
Neither the SUV nor the bodies of the Santa Clarita family have been recovered, but undisclosed belongings of the Thottapilly family and car parts from their SUV were found along the river, the CHP said in a statement.
Sandeep Thottapilly, 42, his wife, Soumya, 38, and their two children, Siddhant, 12, and Saachi, 9, were on vacation driving from Portland, Oregon, to San Jose where they had planned to meet with family, the CHP said.
Family members reported the husband, wife and two kids missing to San Jose police Sunday, two days after they were expected to arrive, the CHP said. The last communication from the family was April 5 when they were traveling south on Highway 101 through Klamath in Del Norte County.
A witness reported seeing a maroon SUV, possibly a Honda Pilot, crash into the South Fork of the Eel River north of Leggett around 1:10 p.m. April 6, the CHP said.
The Honda Pilot had pulled onto a gravel turnout in rainy weather along the highway but moved too far on the soft shoulder where the ground gave way and the SUV slid down a steep embankment into river, said Mendocino County Sheriff’s Lt. Shannon Barney.
The Eel River is 15 to 20 feet deep where the SUV slipped into the river and up to 40 feet deep downstream.
The river was running too fast during the Friday storm to safely deploy rescue divers and boats, the CHP said.
“It was just too dangerous,” Barney said. “There was no way we could put anyone in the river.”
Search-and-rescue teams took inflatable boats and river boards onto the river Tuesday and Wednesday when conditions improved and probed the river bottom with long poles, CHP said. The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office assisted with a jet boat equipped with sonar.
As of Thursday afternoon search and rescue teams from multiple agencies had covered 12 miles of river bank looking for the family, CHP said.
The strength of the fast-moving current could have pushed the SUV far down the Eel River, Barney said.
Sandeep Thottapilly is from Surat, India and is a vice president at Union Bank, according to his Facebook page.
The disappearance of the Thottapilly family marks the second time in as many weeks that a family has disappeared while driving in Mendocino County.
A Washington family of eight drove off a 100-foot cliff on Highway 1, 20 miles north of Fort Bragg. The wreckage was spotted March 26 by a passing motorist.
Two mothers, Jennifer Jean Hart and Sarah Margaret Hart, both 38, were found in the family’s 2003 GMC Yukon XL. Three of their children, were found outside of the SUV. Three other children, Hannah Hart, 16, Cierra Hart, 12, and Devonte Hart, 15, are still missing.
Investigators believe the Yukon was intentionally driven off the cliff.
The body of an African-American female was found on the Mendocino Coast Saturday. Authorities believe it could be the remains of either Hannah or Sierra Hart. DNA analysis should confirm the identity in the coming weeks, Barney said.