Body of a woman found in river that a family's SUV plunged into last week
LEGGETT, Calif. (KTVU) - A tragic turn in the search for a Southern California family whose car crashed in the Eel River in Mendocino County.
Friday morning, the body of a woman was found in the water, believed to be 38-year-old Soumya Thottapilly.
She was traveling with her husband and two children, headed home from vacation.
"You can see the bark on the tree is missing, it appeared the vehicle rolled," described Mendocino
County Sheriff Tom Allman, showing KTVU where the Thottapilly's SUV went over a 100 foot embankment.
Inside, in addition to Souyma, were 42-year-old Sandeep Thottapilly, the couple's 12-year-old son Siddhant, and daughter Saachi, 9.
Investigators say during heavy rain on April 6, they pulled onto a Highway 101 turnout near Leggett and mis-judged the soggy shoulder.
"They just got too close to the edge," said CHP Lt. Randy England, "and it was soft, grass and mud where they went over."
Searchers have been combing the river for days, by boat and air as weather and water conditions improved.
They are using kayaks, jet skis, and probes in tight spots inaccessible to boats.
"This is a very loving family. The East Indian culture is very close," said Sheriff Allman, who is in close contact with relatives who are in Mendocino, keeping vigil.
"While they were certainly in shock over this incident, today they were devastated," he said.
The family has been able to identify personal items pulled from the river.
Pieces of the Honda Pilot, such as side mirrors, have been found, some parts carried a dozen miles.
Relatives in San Jose had reported the family past-due for a visit, as they drove south, the return leg of their road trip to Portland.
That same stormy afternoon, another driver saw a vehicle plunge over the muddy embankment and sink into the river, upside down.
Sheriff Allman says the flow at the time was strong and ten feet deeper, submerging trees and riverbed that are visible now.
"You couldn't see any of that, any of those rocks a week ago," he noted.
So while the fall might have been survivable, the river wasn't.
"I grew up nine miles from here. I know this river, and this river's unforgiving."
Also unforgiving: the scenic roads that curve through the forest.
"Not all roads in California are wide, and not all roads have guard rails," said Allman, at a press briefing in Leggett.
The sheriff vows the search will go on until his resources are exhausted, searching all the way to the mouth of the river at the Pacific Ocean if necessary.
It is an excruciating wait for the Thottapilly's loved ones, but Allman is touched by the concern they have shown for his own staff and volunteers.
"They pleaded with us not to put any first responders in harms way to recover their family and to me, that was a very moving point."