MCSO: Car that plunged into Eel River in Leggett was carrying missing Thottapilly family


The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) has confirmed suspicions that a car swallowed up by the Eel River on April 6 was carrying a family of four who was reported missing while traveling to their home in Southern California.

Deputies said evidence found by search and rescue teams confirm that the vehicle that was seen going into the Eel River is that of the Thottapilly family.

The MCSO and California Highway Patrol (CHP) continued search efforts along the South Fork of the Eel River, just north of Leggett, to attempt to recover a vehicle that was reported to have been submerged in the river at approximately 1:10 p.m. on Friday, April 6. During their investigation, the CHP discovered a possible car part that was thought to have been broken from the vehicle at the crash scene.

Through their investigation, the CHP was able to determine that the car part belonged to a Honda Pilot, maroon in color. On Monday, April 9, the CHP became aware of a missing family of four, the Thottapilly family from Santa Clarita, who was believed to be traveling through Humboldt and Mendocino County on Highway 101 while on vacation.

On April 10 and 11 officials 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 found.

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, but they did find numerous items that appeared to have come from a vehicle body and interior. Some of these items were consistent with a Honda vehicle. Also found were various personal items that were consistent with a family traveling on vacation. Several of those items have been positively identified by family members as belonging to the missing Thottapilly family, the MCSO said.

"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 sheriff's office said.

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 California Highway Patrol will conduct a complete mechanical inspection of the vehicle as part of the accident investigation.

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