Thai Consulate warns of protests unless bodies of two exchange students are pulled from Kings River soon

The Thai community is preparing to organize twin protests in Los Angeles and San Francisco Monday if authorities in Fresno County fail to recover the bodies of two Thai students believed to be trapped in the Kings River, Thai consulate officials say.

The bodies are believed to be in a mangled automobile that was first spotted at the bottom of a treacherous river gorge more than two weeks ago. The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office has told family members and consulate officials that they are still trying to determine the safest way of recovering the bodies, but the Royal Thai Consulate-General Los Angeles wrote on Facebook that protesters are urging action now.

“The students’ relatives gave an interview to the AP News that they were thinking of hiring a private rescuer if necessary to recover the bodies as it has been 15 days,” the consulate said in its statement.

The Kings River is cold and fast from melting snow and recent thunderstorms.

Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti said the car is trapped in the middle of a rapid that lies between two canyon faces more than 500 feet high, with a 75-foot drop about 100 feet downriver. Any recovery attempt in such a situation is fraught with danger, he said.

“There’s absolutely a risk for our personnel, and they have to be sure to cover all their bases,” he said. “It’s about having the right weather conditions along with the proper equipment…there’s a lot of back and forth with our experts on what the best approach is.”

Reaching the car in a vessel is out of the question, and there’s no shoreline nearby to simply lift the vehicle up by helicopter and drop it off, Botti said.

“The two likeliest scenarios would be from the air above or rappelling down the side,” he said.

The priority is to recover the bodies believed to be inside, Botti said. Recovering the car is a possibility but not required, he said.

According to the sheriff’s office, the car’s occupants are believed to be a man and woman from Thailand who were attending the University of South Florida on an exchange program. Authorities believe they accidentally drove through a guardrail on a curve on Highway 180 on July 26 and plummeted more than 500 feet to the river below.

The vehicle’s airbags deployed, making it virtually impossible to see inside the vehicle from a distance.

Authorities have used a military helicopter and planned to use a drone to survey the conditions in the river and the car, officials said.

The Thai Consulate said the pair were staying at the Reedley Inn Hotel as part of a visit to Kings Canyon National Park. They were driving back into the park at the time of the accident, the Consulate said.

The Fresno Bee identified the students as Bhakapon Chairatanathongporn and Thiwadee Saengsuriyarit.

joseph.serna@latimes.com

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna on Twitter.

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