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Fresno County sheriff releases video of dangerous recovery operation in Kings River

On the night of July 26, a vehicle went through a guardrail on Highway 180, plunging 500 feet into the Kings River. River conditions were monitored daily to determine when a recovery operation could take place. The flow of the river gradually decreased and the bodies were recovered Sept. 1.

A video released Monday by the Fresno County Sheriff's Office shows how meticulously crews had to work earlier this month to remove a car and two bodies trapped inside it from the frothing Kings River.

The car, a red Hyundai Sonata, had plummeted 500 feet after plowing through a guardrail on Highway 180 on July 26, authorities said. Since then, the smashed vehicle has rested on a pile of boulders amid raging waters.

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Search-and-rescue crews from the Fresno County Sheriff's Office pulled the sedan to the riverbank Sept. 1, then retrieved the bodies of University of South Florida exchange students Pakapol Chairatnathrongporn, 28, and Thiwadee Saengsuriyarit, 24, from the car.

The video shows just how perilous the operation was and why it took more than a month to get underway.

According to sheriff's spokesman Tony Botti, the Kings River was producing Class-V rapids at the site where the car landed, and where water was rushing by at 1,500 cubic feet per second.

For weeks, authorities monitored water levels until they slowed enough to be relatively safe to work in. On Sept. 1, crews had their chance.

Secured by a tethered line, a deputy waded into the river to the car, where he tied a cable to the vehicle while the other end was anchored to a rock on the river's edge.

Using a manual winch system, crew members slowly pulled the car closer to shore, where they then recovered the bodies of the two students. A helicopter then airlifted the bodies from the area.

The car was eventually drawn to the river's edge where it will be recovered at a later date.

In the time officials prepared for the recovery effort, they also found signs of another couple who disappeared recently from Sequoia National Park and also may have driven off the same section of highway, roughly 75 miles east of Fresno.

Yinan Wang, 31, and his wife, Jie Song, 30, were last seen at Sequoia National Park's Crystal Cave on Aug. 6. They were expected to drive north and stay the night in Fresno before continuing on to Yosemite National Park. The California license plate from the couple's rental car was spotted about 40 yards upstream from the Thai couple's vehicle.

They have not been found.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna on Twitter.

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