Debris from the vehicle and personal effects discovered in and along the Eel River in Northern California have been positively identified by family members as belonging to the Thottapilly family, Mendocino County officials confirmed Thursday.
However, by mid-day Thursday, search crews from multiple agencies had not yet located any of the four missing Valencia residents or the vehicle, due to high water in the river and inclement weather in the area.
Sandeep Thottapilly, 42, his 38-year-old wife Soumya, and their 12-year-old son Siddhant and 9-year-old daughter Saachi were on a road trip headed south from Portland, Oregon to San Jose on April 5. They were traveling on U.S. Highway 101 in a maroon 2016 Honda Pilot SUV.
The four never arrived in San Jose. Family members reported them missing to authorities there on April 8.
The California Highway Patrol and the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office will hold a press conference at the Leggett CalFIRE Station at noon Wednesday with further updates.
Meanwhile, here’s the latest from the CHP’s Garberville office:
“The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office and the California Highway Patrol, Garberville Area Office, continued 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 at approximately 1:10 p.m. on Friday, 4/06/2018.
“During their investigation, the California 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 California Highway Patrol became aware of an overdue family of 4, the Thottapilly family from Santa Clarita, CA, who was believed to be traveling through Humboldt and Mendocino County on US-101, while on vacation.
“In cooperation with San Jose Police Department, it was determined 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 California Highway Patrol developed information this family was 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 determined 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 California Highway Patrol agreed to do continuous evaluations as the river levels receded.
Eel River in Northern California, where authorities continue searching for a missing vehicle now believed to belong to the Thottapilly family of Valencia, California, missing since April 5. | Photo: CHP-Garberville.
“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 of 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 California 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 CalFIRE Station, 69310 North Highway 101, Leggett, at noon on 4/13/2018 to answer any media 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: Rescue Solutions, 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, San Jose Police Department, Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, California National Guard, Cal FIRE, and California Governors Office of Emergency Services.”
The Eel River on the day the vehicle was lost. | Photo: Southern Humboldt Technical Rescue.