MENDOCINO COUNTY, Calif. - Authorities in Mendocino County are coordinating a search for an SUV that was swept into the Eel River and matches the description of a vehicle belonging to a Southern California family who have been missing since last week.
Witnesses saw a maroon Honda Pilot drop into the river last Friday, but bad weather and a fast-moving and murky river have hampered searchers effort to find and retrieve the vehicle.
Authorities say the Thottapilly family of four have been missing since last week while on a road trip from Portland, Oregon, to their home in Southern California. The missing family was traveling in maroon or burgundy 2016 Honda Pilot.
The family had made a visit to Silver Falls State Park in Oregon, and then headed south toward San Jose, where they were expected, but did not arrive, to visit a relative.
Family members say they lost contact with them last Thursday, 50 miles north of Eureka, California, in the Klamath-Redwood National and State Parks area.
Initially, family members thought bad weather was interfering with cell phone reception, but when they did not arrive in San Jose, relatives feared something was wrong, and filed a missing person’s report with the San Jose Police Department.
A "missing" poster on Facebook identifies the family members as 42-year-old Sandeep, 38-year-old Soumya, 12-year-old Siddhanty and 9-year-old Saachi. They were at the end of a week-long road trip that started on March 30.
Witnesses reported seeing the car that was traveling on Highway 101 fall into the south fork of the Eel River, north of the tiny town of Leggett and about 20 miles northwest of Laytonville.
Mendocino County sheriff’s officials plan to search that stretch of the river once water levels drop, but say the fast-moving currents could have swept the car down river.
The search Tuesday comes just two weeks after a Washington state couple, Sarah and Jennifer Hart, and three of their children were killed in Mendocino County when their SUV plunged off Highway 1 into the Pacific Ocean.
The bodies of the Hart’s three other teenaged children have not been found, although over the weekend the body of an African American girl was pulled from the surf. Authorities say the body could be one of the missing children. The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office has confirmed that the crash is being investigated as an intentional act.
Data retrieved from the Hart family SUV indicates that the driver accelerated for 70 feet before the vehicle plunged more than 100 feet down a cliff and into the ocean below.The SUV didn't leave skid marks on the roadway, and is believed to have driven straight off the edge of the cliff.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.