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Woman's body found in Northern California river during search for missing Santa Clarita Valley family

Woman's body found in Northern California river during search for missing Santa Clarita Valley family
Authorities search the Eel River in Northern California this week in search of the missing Thottapilly family from the Santa Clarita Valley. (Mendocino County Sheriff's Office)

A woman's body was found in a Northern California river on Friday amid a search for a missing family of four from the Santa Clarita Valley, authorities said.

The body was found about seven miles south of the spot where, authorities believe, the family's maroon Honda Pilot veered off the 101 Freeway last week and landed in the Eel River just north of the small community of Leggett, Mendocino County Sheriff Thomas Allman said at a news conference Friday.

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The family includes Sandeep Thottapilly, 41; his wife, Soumya, 38; and their children, Siddhant, 12, and Saachi, 9. Relatives of the family filed a missing persons report Sunday.

The family from Valencia had visited Portland, Ore., and were traveling on April 6 to a friend's home in San Jose, authorities said. Shortly after 1 p.m. that day, a Honda Pilot matching the one in which they were traveling was reported to be submerged in the river.

The driver was pulling over to the side of the road amid heavy rain just before the vehicle went over the edge and may have misjudged where the road ended, according to the California Highway Patrol. Authorities have said the stretch of highway that runs through the rural area gets particularly windy and that the embankment is heavily forested and drops 50 to 100 feet down.

The woman's body was found in the water by authorities searching the river by boat, Allman said. Authorities, who originally had said the body was a child's, anticipate that an autopsy will be performed early next week.

Allman said he was not surprised by the 7-mile distance from the crash site.

"This river at the flood stage is unforgiving," Allman said.

Initially hampered by heavy rainfall and the rain-swollen river, search crews have been unable to locate the vehicle but did find car parts as well as personal items that were positively identified by the Thottapillys' extended family members, authorities said this week.

Rescue workers continue to search for the vehicle and its occupants. They have been using CHP helicopters, boats equipped with sonar, kayaks, river boards, jet skis and dive teams, authorities said.

"One of the key parts of this is locating the vehicle. … We're not going to stop until our resources are completely gone," Allman said.

The Eel River dumps into the Pacific Ocean, and search crews will continue all the way to the river's mouth if they have to, Allman said. Law enforcement resources have been stretched, Allman said, because of the searches and investigation involving the Washington state Hart family of eight, whose vehicle plunged off a Mendocino County cliff last month.

CHP Capt. Bruce Carpenter said the two incidents, likely involving 12 fatalities, are "unprecedented for this county."

"Our hearts go out to these families," Carpenter said.

Twitter: @haileybranson

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UPDATES:

1:35 p.m. April 14: This article has been updated with information from authorities that the body found was a woman's.

This article originally published April 13 at 3:10 p.m.

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