Relatives of Missing Thottapilly Family Identify Items Found at Eel River Crash Site
On Tuesday, they drove to near the crash site where they were met with Michelle Bushnell, president of the local Chamber of Commerce, Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman, CHP spokesperson Officer William Wunderlich, and Diana Totten, spokesperson for Southern Humboldt County Technical Rescue. The community reached out to the Thottapilly relatives and attempted to help as much as possible.The family was escorted to the Benbow Historic Inn. A meeting room was also provided where the family learned about the search that had begun that day. Water conditions had improved in the last few days and a search was underway of the crash site. The family expressed that they wanted to see the accident site. While there, searchers located multiple items in the river. Sandeep Thottapilly’s brother recognized a cap belonging to his missing sibling. His cousin recognized little Saachi’s sweater.
On Wednesday, searchers used a helicopter and a sonar-equipped boat to search. Unfortunately, though volunteers and agency crews worked long hours, the missing maroon Honda Pilot belonging to the Thottapillys remained hidden beneath the high waters of the Eel River.
Search teams covered around 12 miles of riverbank during two days of intensive effort, according to the Mendocino Sheriff’s Office.
According to Lt. Shannon Barney of the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department, an incoming storm forced the searches actually on the river itself to shut down until Friday. He explained the search hasn’t completely stopped. He said that Piercy Volunteer Fire Department, Leggett Volunteer Fire Department, Southern Humboldt County Technical Rescue, the California Highway Patrol and the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department will all be patrolling the area.
“We will be monitoring the water,” Barney said this morning. “We don’t know how much it rose during the rains last night…We’ll be gearing up for another push tomorrow.” Barney said some searchers then will be likely “using jet skies to get into the less accessible areas that they were not comfortable going into yesterday.”
He also said there will be another helicopter brought in to search the whole area tomorrow.
The Thottapilly family are grateful and continue to thank the volunteers who are working hard on the search.
Below is a statement from the Mendocino County Sheriff’s 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 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 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: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
Fresno County Sheriff’s Office
California National Guard
California Governors Office of Emergency Services
- Vehicle Upside Down in Water by Confusion Hill on 101
- Rescuers Unable to Recover Occupant(s) or Vehicle After It Plunged Into Eel River
- CHP Searched Sunday for Vehicle and Occupant(s) That Disappeared Into the Eel on Friday
- River Still Hasn’t Dropped Enough to Locate Vehicle That Was Swallowed Last Friday
- Dive Teams Sought for Missing People in the Hart Accident off Hwy 1 and the Missing Vehicle That Was Swallowed by the Eel River on Friday
- Multiple Agencies Searching for Vehicle Swallowed by Eel River
- Witness Tells of Vehicle Tipping Onto Two Wheels and Tumbling Over the Bank Into the Eel River Near Confusion Hill North of Leggett; Searchers Scour the River Tuesday
- Motorized Boat and Helicopter Join the Search for Vehicle Submerged in the Eel River