Massive search-and-rescue operations yield three bodies, vehicle in drowning tragedy involving Indian-American family

Rushing waters in the Eel River in California at the site where the Honda Pilot went off the highway April 6, when an Indian-American family went missing. One body has been recovered. (Photo: Southern Humboldt Technical Rescue, via Mendocino Sheriff’s Office Facebook)

In a massive search that began two days after the disappearance of a Indian-American family of four April 6, police said on April 16, that three bodies and the vehicle had been recovered from the Eels River in northern California.

On April 13, morning, searchers located the body of an adult female approximately 7 miles north of the reported crash site where an Indian-American family’s car is suspected to have gone off the road into the Eel River in Mendocino, California.

The Mendocino Sheriff’s Office said the body was that of 38-year old Soumya Thottapilly, of Santa Clarita CA, who along with her husband, Sandeep Thottapilly, 41, son Siddhant, 12, and daughter Saachi, 9, age, Santa Clarita CA, went missing April 6.

The Thottapilly Family (Courtesy: Facebook)

On April 15, when some 70 searchers were involved in the search in Leggett, California, they detected a gasoline smell that led them to the Honda Pilot being driven by the family.
The Mendocino Sheriff’s Office said the bodies of Sandeep Thottapilly and Saachi Thottapilly were also recovered from inside the vehicle. Siddhant Thottapilly remains missing as the search continues.

The Thottapilly’s were en route to their friend’s in San Jose when the tragedy occurred April 6. Their friends informed San Jose police of the missing family April 8, and Indian American and Indian media flashed the news around the country and in India.

On April 12, 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 April 6.  According to the California Highway Patrol, the driver was pulling over to the side of the road during the heavy rain, and went over the edge misjudging the space available beside the highway, the Los Angeles Times reported.

On April 9, police discovered a part of the maroon Honda Pilot.


Search-and-rescue operations continued for the Indian-American family of four in California. (Photo: Facebook Mendocino Sheriff’s Office_

“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,” the Mendocino Sheriff’s Office said at the beginning of the search. Miles and miles of the river bank and the waters were searched for the vehicle and the family members.

On April 10 and again on April 11, 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.

Numerous agencies and entities joined up to carry out the search including the San Jose Police Department, 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, Cal FIRE, and California Governors Office of Emergency Services

This story was updated April 16.




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