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Woman’s body found in California river where family vanished

LEGGETT, Calif. (AP) — Searchers looking for a family of four whose SUV plunged into a Northern California river have found the body of a woman believed to be from the vehicle, authorities said Friday.

A search team found the body about 7 miles (11 kilometers) south of where the family’s SUV fell into the rain-swollen Eel River last week, Mendocino County Sheriff Thomas Allman told a news conference in the community of Leggett.

Initially, Allman said the body was that of a child but the sheriff’s office later corrected that it was a woman’s.

She was found on exposed ground that a few days ago had been covered by the storm-swollen river, according to a sheriff’s office statement.

The woman had not been formally identified but Allman earlier said the body was believed to have been one of the people in the car.

Four members of the Thottapilly family, including a man and wife and two children, went missing this month while traveling from Portland, Oregon, to their home in the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Clarita.

They were reported missing April 8 after failing to show up for a visit with relatives in San Jose. They were last heard from while visiting the redwood forests of California’s far north coast.

The missing were identified as Sandeep Thottapilly, 41; Soumya Thottapilly, 38; Siddhant Thottapilly, 12; and Saachi Thottapilly, 9.

Before the family was reported missing, authorities were already searching for a vehicle that had been seen falling into the roiling Eel River on April 6. The vehicle submerged and vanished before rescuers reached the scene.

Officials later learned it matched the description of the Thottapilly’s maroon Honda Pilot. Debris at the accident site and other material found along the riverbanks also was consistent with that vehicle, officials have said.

Searchers also found items described as consistent with a family traveling on vacation and unspecified personal items that allowed officials to confirm that the vehicle seen plunging into the river was the Thottapilly’s SUV.

The search along the south fork of the Eel River is north of where another search has been going on along the Mendocino County coast for members of a family of eight whose SUV plunged off a towering ocean bluff and into the surf line below.

Five bodies were found March 26 but three children remain missing. A body pulled out of the surf last weekend was not immediately identified.

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