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Found items confirm van plunged into Eel River

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Items found in the Eel River in Mendocino County this week confirm that a vehicle seen going into the river last week was a Honda belonging to a vacationing Southern California family that disappeared Friday, Mendocino County sheriff’s officials said Thursday afternoon.

Family members positively identified several of the items as belonging to the four members of the Thottapilly family of Santa Clarita, according to the sheriff’s office.

The family members — Sandeep Thottapilly, 41, Soumya Thottapilly, 38, Siddhant Thottapilly, 12, and Saachi Thottapilly, 9, and their maroon Honda pilot have not been found.

The family was traveling from Portland, Oregon, to Santa Clarita in a 2016 maroon Honda Pilot. They were last seen April 5 in Klamath in Del Norte County, and they were scheduled to visit a relative in San Jose last Friday. The relative reported them missing to San Jose police on Sunday.

The California Highway Patrol received a report around 1:10 p.m. last Friday that a car went over a steep embankment on U.S. Highway 101 south of Dora Creek just north of Leggett.

CHP officers found a vehicle part that was determined to be from a maroon Honda Pilot and requested a Mendocino County search and rescue dive team to try to recover the vehicle, sheriff’s officials said.

Swift, high water flow from last week’s rains prevented a search by the dive team, but on Tuesday and Wednesday the swift water rescue teams were able to search the river banks and do limited probing underwater with a long pole.

The teams searched the river in inflatable boats and on small, inflated river boards used to search under overhanging trees and in areas inaccessible by boat. The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office also searched with its jet boat with a side scan sonar system, sheriff’s officials said.

The teams covered 12 miles of the riverbank on Tuesday and Wednesday but did not find the Honda or the family members.

When the vehicle is located, other county dive teams and technical rescue responders will help recover it, sheriff’s officials said.

The CHP will do a complete mechanical inspection of the vehicle as part of its accident investigation. San Jose police are investigating the family’s disappearance.

CHP and Mendocino County sheriff’s officials are holding a news conference Friday to discuss the case.

 

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