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Family on road trip goes missing in same county where SUV plunged off cliff

Car fell in Calif. river near where family vanished

LEGGETT, Calif. -- A vehicle fell into a rain-swollen river and vanished last week in the same region of California's far north coast where a family that vanished during a road trip is last known to have been, authorities said. Mendocino County sheriff's Lt. Shannon Barney told The Press-Democrat of Santa Rosa that officials will launch a search of the south fork of the Eel River once water levels drop and the flow slows.

Witnesses reported a newer-model maroon vehicle, possibly a Honda Pilot, went into the river about 1 p.m. Friday, said California Highway Patrol Officer William Wunderlich.  The vehicle was southbound on U.S. 101, pulled into a turnout and went over the side and into the river.

Police identified their vehicle as a maroon or burgundy 2016 Honda Pilot with license plates 7MMX138.

A "missing" poster shared by friends and family on Facebook identified the Thottapilly family members as 42-year-old Sandeep, 38-year-old Soumya, 12-year-old Siddhanty and 9-year-old Saachi.

The poster said their last known location was the "Klamath-Redwood National Park area."

San Jose Police Department Officer Gina Tepoorten said Sandeep Thottapilly and his family never arrived as planned at a relative's San Jose house on Friday.

In an email to CBS San Francisco, Tepoorten said her agency got a call from a family member wanting to make a missing person's report. The Thottapilly family was traveling from Portland to their home in Santa Clarita with a stop in San Jose along the way.

"The family never made it to their destination and have not been heard or seen from since Thursday," the email said.           

The Klamath River and a string of state and federal redwood parks lie along U.S. 101 to the north of where the vehicle was seeing falling into the Eel River. A powerful storm late last week dropped 2 to 5 inches of rain in the region.

Farther south along the Mendocino County coast, authorities continue to look for members of a family missing since an SUV made a deadly and possibly intentional plunge off a towering ocean bluff along State Route 1 last month.

Family's deadly plunge off California cliff may have been intentional

Sarah and Jennifer Hart and their six adopted children were believed to be in the family's SUV at the time. Five bodies were found March 26 near Mendocino, a few days after Washington state authorities began investigating the Harts for possible child neglect, but three of their children were not immediately recovered from the scene along the shoreline.

A body was pulled out of the surf on Saturday but its identity was not immediately identified.