On 04-13-2018 at approximately 10:45 AM searchers located the deceased body of an adult female approximately 7 miles north of the reported crash site (Eel River flows in a northern direction).
The body was found on exposed terrain which appeared to have covered by the Eel River within the last few days as a result of a recent weather storm which brought heavy rain to the area.
Identification of the body is pending at this time and an autopsy is anticipated to be conducted on 04-17-2018.
Searchers are continuing to search for the missing family members and their vehicle which is believed to still be submerged somewhere in the Eel River.
The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office and the California Highway Patrol, Garberville Area Office, are continuing their efforts along the South Fork of the Eel River, just north of the town of Leggett CA, to locate and recover a vehicle that was reported to have been submerged in the river on around 1:10 PM on Friday 4/06/2018. During their investigation the Highway Patrol discovered a possible car part, that was thought to have been broken from the vehicle, at the scene. Through their investigation they were able to determine that particular part belonged to a Honda Pilot, maroon in color. On Monday 4/9/18 the Highway Patrol became aware of an overdue family of 4, the Thottapilly family from Santa Clarita CA, who was believed to be traveling through the Redwood Coast Highway, on vacation. Their investigation later showed the overdue family was supposed to have arrived to visit a friend in the San Jose area on 4/6/2018 but did not make it as scheduled. The family was last heard from in the town of Klamath, Del Norte County, on 4/5/2018. The Highway Patrol developed information this family were traveling in a family vehicle, a 2016 maroon Honda Pilot. The family was officially reported as missing to the San Jose Police Department on 4/8/2018.
The California Highway Patrol contacted the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office in the early afternoon of Friday 4/6/18 regarding the availability of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Search and Rescue Dive Team to evaluate the possibility of vehicle recovery. After a complete assessment it was determine that diving or swift water rescue operations could not be conducted in a safe manner due to the height and flow of the river during the storm. The Sheriff's Office and the Highway Patrol agreed to do continuous evaluations as the river levels receded.
On 4/10 and again on 4/11/2018 it was determined the water levels would allow the insertion of Swift Water Rescue Teams to conduct a bank search as well as 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 on River Boards, a small floatation device designed to allow full access under overhanging trees or tight areas not accessible by boat. The Humboldt County Sheriff's Office also assisted with the use of their jet boat with side scan sonar system.
Between the two search days the teams were able to cover approximately 12 miles of river bank. The teams were unsuccessful in locating the vehicle or any occupants from the vehicle. They were able to locate numerous items that appeared to have come from a vehicle body and interior. Some of these items were consistent with a Honda vehicle. Also located were various personal items that were consistent with a family traveling on vacation. Several items have been positively identified, by family members, as belonging to the Thottapilly family. These items were of a personal nature and will not be described further at this time, but it does confirm the fact the vehicle that was seen going into the river was that of the Thottapilly family.
The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office has been in contact with numerous other county dive teams and technical rescue responders that can be called upon, when the vehicle is located, to assist with recovery of the vehicle. Once recovered the Highway Patrol will conduct a complete mechanical inspection of the vehicle as part of the accident investigation.
A joint Press Conference of the California Highway Patrol and the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office will be held at the Leggett Cal FIRE Station, 69310 North Highway 101 Leggett, at noon on 4/13/2018 to answer any press related questions related to this investigation.
The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office and the California Highway Patrol would like to thank the following agencies/entities for their assistance thus far in this incident:
San Jose Police Department
Southern Humboldt Technical Rescue Team
Humboldt County Sheriff's Office Boat Team
Piercy Fire Department
Leggett Valley Fire Department
Little Lake Fire Department
Ukiah Valley Fire Department
Hopland Fire Department
Fresno County Sheriff's Office
California National Guard
California Governors Office of Emergency Services
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