Rescuers Unable to Recover Occupant(s) or Vehicle After It Plunged Into Eel River This Afternoon

flooding Eel River north of Leggett

Water continues to rise where the vehicle was last seen upside down in the Eel River. [Photo provided by Southern Humboldt Technical Rescue]

As the swollen Eel River continued to rise this afternoon, emergency personnel were forced to cancel their attempts to recover a vehicle and whoever was occupying it when the person driving it reportedly tried to pull over and the vehicle “fell over the edge” into the water near Confusion Hill about 1:10 p.m.

“The water is too deep and the river is rising,” said Thomas Norris, spokesperson for the Southern Humboldt Technical Rescue team. “There were safety concerns,” he added. “We were unable to perform a recovery as we don’t have divers.”

The water was swift and murky and the vehicle was completely submerged when Norris’ team arrived on the site.

“We’ll have to wait until the water goes down,” Norris said.

At this point, neither Norris nor the California Highway Patrol knew what type of vehicle went over the edge nor how many occupants were in it. Our hearts go out to the family that is waiting and not knowing what happened to their loved one.

Earlier Chapter: Vehicle Upside Down in Water by Confusion Hill on 101

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46 comments

  • Notsureicantakemuchmorebadnews

    We were unable to perform a recovery as we don’t have drivers.”

    Divers? Kym

    Love your work, the topics are sometimes so intense. Not sure how u do it day after day but it is appreciated .

  • So sad. It is not always possible to tell how stable a turnout is, especially near a river when the ground has been compromised with all this rain.

  • If it was witnessed going over the edge you’d figure said witness could have given some sort of vehicle description?

  • It wasnt too far south of there that a motorist swore to seeing a bicyclist go off the bluff, but all searches turned up no sign of said incident.

    Could it be that good again this time?

  • 4.75” for the last two days. That’s a good January style storm.. but include snow melt to that much water and we have some dangerous creeks and rivers.

  • Any possibility there just trapped n have an area of air in vehicle. I can’t believe you just leave them.

    • welcome to our pleasant little third world hamlet.

      • Sorry kirk but youre wrong there. Most other areas do not have volunteers willing to risk their lives to save others, & even if they had divers its incredibly dangerous. Do you really think places like SF and LA have experienced divers on hand ready to go???? Nope. And if they did they wouldn’t put them in harms way.

        To me if the southern humboldt tech rescue and coast guards cant do it then it cant be done safely. Period.
        They have done some incredible rescues and are better trained than the sheriffs. If you feel like the sheriffs office should use tax money to have divers available then call and tell them.

        If any of you armchair rescuers think you can get in the river right now and dive down through debris and possibly sharp metal edges in water with zero visibility, go for it, its nuts in my book.
        After 15 minutes its body retrieval. No cheri theres no air pockets in cars especially when they land upside down in water.

        • Couldn’t agree more strongly, Mkl. It is simply silly to blame first responders for someone else’s tragedy. I sure wish people would stop blaming somebody for another person’s mistake or accident. First responders are ready, trained and prepared, but in hazardous situations, they have to be cleared to enter a scene. A vehicle upside down and completely submerged in a rapidly rising river certainly qualifies as a hazard. Do these folks think that the tragedy will be lessened if rescuers risk their own lives to retrieve what is certainly a body, not a living human?

        • Its called swift water rescue!!!!

          • Not in those conditions. It is too life-threatening, and you don’t have a living person to be rescued, you have dead bodies beneath the surface of murky, rapidly rising water. Gobsmacking how willing people are to risk a first responders life or criticize them for not attempting an impossible task with almost zero chance of a positive outcome. Adding to a tragedy never actually makes it better.

          • sad2say, Lemme just say, “suit up!” and “we’ll wait here.”

          • This is not a television show

            It’s swift water rescue when it works out. If not, it’s called your bad day. When i go to a call i remind myself that it is somebody else’s emergency. I’m there to help. Putting my life in danger, risking my kids losing a parent, doesn’t help. You can’t get in a bad situation, then blame the people who try to help. You getting rescued from your situation is never guaranteed. Did you realize that everyone alive today will pass at some point, and there is nothing anyone can do to change that.

            • A grateful human

              God bless you! I thank you for your effort and it’s awful when you can’t bring them home, but you MUST go home to your family!!!

        • Well said !!

    • Sharpen your pencil

      Grab your wetsuit and get out there! No need for another family to mourn the loss of a loved one. If they don’t have divers or know what kind of car it is, maybe, hopefully it is unoccupied.

    • Hopefully it’s just being distressed by the story that provoked criticism of people who routinely risk their own lives to save others. Without being there, having any knowledge and without taking any risk themselves, no one should feel free with their uninformed, nasty and unrealistic opinions. Do you not think that such decisions as to halt rescue attempts don’t carry enough misery all by themselves that you need to thrown more on?

      Unlike the La La land of movies and TV, there are things that can’t be done with special effects.

    • First responders’ lives matter. Nobody can ascertain whether the occupant(s) are even still in the vehicle, let alone still living. If you can’t safely get to them, then you don’t go. This is true in other emergency response situations. For example, first responders are required to wait until given an all-clear in a fire or an active-shooter situation. That’s the case here, too.

    • No chance. Vehicles are FAR from air tight. They fill with water quickly.

    • That’s what happened to Mary Jo when Ted Kennedy walked away to sober up, she suffocated. There’s no way these victim(s) would last this long

  • Where is the turn out?

  • What kind of vehicle

      • One of the two Witnesses

        My wife was driving and thought that the vehicle” might ” have been maroon. We were unsure because it appeared to be a vehicle performing a normal slow turn out. This truly did not capture our attention until the vehicle was on two wheels teetering, then flipping over. Vehicle was heading southbound. As a passenger using my cellphone for texting and the internet I thought it might have been green.
        It was a surreal nightmare. I called 911 immediately, we parked our car about 70 yards down the road where it was the very first safe place and I ran back to help to no avail. What a horrible helpless feeling to not be able to help. I went down the embankment about 15-20 feet to where I could see the path that the vehicle tumbled, ripping parts of trees, down into the deep and rapid rushing river. The vehicle was completely underwater with some oil visible. My wife and I cannot get the nightmare out of our minds. My wife was NOT tailgating, the driver may have been having medical problems since he/she had plenty of room to stop on the pavement and was not driving fast. There are some insensitive people making rude comments on this column. We wish we could have given more witness details, but as I said, our direct focused attention was not on the unfortunate driver until the vehicle was on two wheels.

        • I am writing this having heard today that the vehicle may have contained the missing family of four from Southern California. I don’t know them, but being a dad who has taken his own family on numerous trips throughout California and the western US, we’ve been in our share of heavy rains while on the road. I thank you and your wife for being good people to go back and try to help, even though there was sadly nothing anyone could have done to help them. I hope the horror of that incident will one day fade from your memories and that you find some solace knowing that those who were lost are at peace now. Bless you.

    • The same kind it stated in the story, unidentified.. read….

  • Covelo or busted

    Doesn’t say where till end of article.

  • In a perfect world, everyone has happy endings. Wake up folks … this is NOT a perfect world. May God bless the hearts & souls of all involved. Thank you, Kym. Keep doing what you do, Lady! You are loved & appreciated… as are these remarkable first responders!

  • Another factor is that the vehicle may now be far downstream from where it entered.

  • cynical hedonist

    As a certified Scuba Rescue Diver and having been in some previous ‘Recovery’ situations, not ‘Rescue’ situations, MCSD would not have put divers in the water until their safety was assured from the shore. If the vehicles location was known by the time divers arrived on the scene then a rescue/recovery operation could have been implemented as soon as the divers were certain that the vehicle was not being carried along by the current. If the vehicle is being moved along by the current, that poses significant hazards on top of attempting a rescue. In a swift water, underwater rescue, time is of the essence. There are many factors to take into account to secure the safety of the divers entering the water for this type of event. Water temperature, visibility, (which is most likely a couple inches maybe 1 foot max), water current, is the vehicle being moved along by the water or staying in one place, etc…
    Once the divers safety has been assured then an attempt can be made to get to the occupants. If the occupant(s) have been injured in the accident, survival probability drops dramatically. Doing triage underwater in a fast moving, freezing no visibility situation is a tough call. Rescue divers are trained to make critical decisions in a split second as this kind of situation is not static and is changing every moment. This is an extremely hard job for even for highly trained individuals who are trained from the very get go that it is paramount not to turn yourself into another victim. There are so many factors to consider in a situation like this and decisions need to be made immediately. It would be a miracle if anyone in the vehicle survived for even 10 minutes. Getting divers to the scene and safely secured to even enter the water is probably going to take a minimum of 20 minutes under perfect conditions…
    It is sad to say but this situation probably went from a ‘rescue’ situation to a ‘recovery situation within the first half hour.

  • Afraid for my Life

    I wonder if this is another case of neglected maintenance and lack of guardrail or “soft shoulder” signs…. Northern Mendocino and Southern Humboldts roads are left in constant disrepair and shambles… where was the guard rail safety signs or warning, this keeps happening up here, I wonder if the County Sheriff will declare this a suicide to save the County the cost of the lawsuit just like the Hurt Family Accident on the coast…. the County of Mendocino is always avoiding responsibility when they are in blatant error….

  • Hi there, is this possibly the family that is missing from Santa Clarita. The news on that missing family is sketchy, but the KTLA news reported that they had checked in with family from Klamath and were heading to San Jose. No dates or timeline were posted on news, they were in a Maroon Honda. Maybe this is them?

  • Was this vehicle northbound or southbound ? I can’t read the map apparently.. ..

  • Any update Kyn?
    Am soumya thottapillyz cousin sister.

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