Authorities in Northern California are searching for a family whose vehicle matches the description of an SUV that witnesses say was swept away by a river in Mendocino County.
The family of four disappeared last week in the same region where another family died after apparently driving off a cliff last month.
A poster shared by friends and relatives on social media says that Sandeep Thottapilly, his wife, Soumya, and their two children were on a road trip and were last heard from Thursday. They were supposed to meet with family in San Jose on Friday, but they never showed up, according to the San Jose Police Department.
The poster also identifies the couple’s children as Siddhant Thottapilly, 12, and Saachi Thottapilly, 9. They were traveling from Portland, Ore., to their home in Santa Clarita, Calif., just outside Los Angeles.
The family’s vehicle was a maroon or burgundy 2016 Honda Pilot. The California Highway Patrol told the Los Angeles Times that witnesses saw a newer-model, maroon Honda Pilot falling off a steep embankment into the Eel River off U.S. Route 101 near Leggett, a small camping and hiking destination in the county. The vehicle was traveling south on the highway, which runs parallel to the river.
A CHP spokesman was not available Wednesday morning, but Officer William Wunderlich told the Times that small plastic pieces believed to have come from the vehicle were found at the scene. Search efforts, however, were hampered by heavy rainfall last week. The rain caused the river to swell and to be clouded with mud and debris, Wunderlich said.
Lt. Shannon Barney, of the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office told the Press-Democrat of Santa Rosa Tuesday that responders will begin searching the south fork of the river once water levels drop and the river flow slows.
Authorities said they have not determined that the vehicle belonged to the missing family, whose SUV had the California license plate 7MMX138. Absent a license plate and a serial number for the vehicle that witnesses saw, investigators don’t want to “jump to conclusions,” Wunderlich told the Times.
The nearly 200-mile Eel River snakes across Mendocino County and Humboldt County to the north.
The incident happened roughly 30 miles from the area where another family’s SUV plunged 100 feet down a cliff off the scenic Pacific Coast Highway and into the ocean. The crash killed a married couple, Jennifer Jean Hart and Sarah Margaret Hart, both 38, and at least three of their six children. The other three are feared to be dead. Investigators said that vehicle may have been intentionally driven off the cliff.