Two bodies were pulled from a wrecked car in the Kings River on Thursday during the search for a San Diego couple believed to have died in August when their car plunged down a steep canyon into the river.
Using a manual winch system, the Fresno County Sheriff's search and rescue team extracted a car submerged in the Horseshoe Bend area of the river about 50 miles east of Fresno and found two bodies — presumably those of Yinan Wang, 31, and his wife, Jie Song, 30 — inside, said Sheriff's Department spokesman Tony Botti.
Deputies hoisted each body up to a helicopter crew, which flew them to a coroner transportation unit waiting nearby. Coroner's officials will conduct autopsies to identify the bodies and cause of death.
The Ford Focus from which they were pulled was registered to Wang. Authorities plan to retrieve the car as part of the investigation to determine the cause of the crash.
Family members reported the couple missing Aug. 11 when they did not return from a road trip to Yosemite and Sequoia national parks.
At the time, Fresno Sheriff's deputies were already searching for the couple's car after identifying its license plate during a recovery operation for another vehicle that drove off the same bend of Highway 180 in July.
While reviewing TV coverage of the Aug. 8 recovery of two Thai exchange students whose car went through a barrier and came to rest in the river, a deputy spotted a license plate that did not belong to the students' rental car.
Deputies determined it belonged to a 2012 Ford Focus that had not been reported missing, stolen or involved in an accident.
The day after the missing persons report was filed, the Sheriff's Department and California Highway Patrol both flew helicopters over the canyon and found what appeared to be wreckage of a submerged white car.
The recovery was delayed by high water in the area of Class 5 rapids, Botti said. During Thursday's recovery operation, the water was nearly 10 times lower than it was in early August, which authorities said created "safer conditions" for a successful operation.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Wang, a Chinese national, has lived in San Diego for about a year. Song lived in China and visited her husband several times a year. The couple have few family members in the United States.
The couple were last in contact with their family Aug. 6 at Crystal Caves in Sequoia National Park, Botti said. They had planned to drive to Fresno that night, stay in a hotel and continue on to Yosemite National Park the next day. They were scheduled to return to San Diego on Aug. 9.
Botti told the Union-Tribune the proximity of the two crashes appeared to be coincidental.
"We've never thought of this as a trouble spot, at least not that we're aware of," he said. "That road is really so windy — it's just as bad before and past that spot."
8:05 p.m.: This article was updated to reflect that two bodies were pulled from the Kings River Thursday.