FRESNO COUNTY - The Fresno County Search and Rescue (SAR) team and the California Highway Patrol will attempt a recovery operation along Highway 180 and the Kings River today. Officers and deputies will be working to extract two bodies from a car located in the river. The bodies are presumed to be that of a 28 year old man and 24 year old woman, both residents of Thailand who were enrolled as exchange students at the University of South Florida.
It was on the night of July 26th that the California Highway Patrol and Fresno County Sheriff’s Office were notified of a traffic accident. A vehicle traveling on Hwy. 180 near Convict Flat and Horseshoe Bend went through a guard rail, off a 500 foot cliff and into the Kings River. CHP immediately contacted the Sheriff’s Office and asked deputies to search the canyon for a vehicle. Members of the Sheriff’s Office performed a search the next day and did locate a red car in the river; a 2016 Hyundai Sonata.
Records showed it was a rental car belonging to two Thai exchange students, a man named Pakapol Chairatnathrongporn and a woman named Thiwadee Saengsuriyarit. The Sheriff’s SAR team then began to evaluate the situation in an effort to remove the car from the Kings River. The location of the wreck included Class 5 rapids and a water flow of 1,500 cubic feet per second, making it too dangerous to conduct a recovery operation. Through the use of aerial photos, CHP was able to see two people deceased inside the car. Conditions were monitored everyday to determine when a recovery operation could take place.
The flow of the river gradually decreased and is currently around 400 cfs. SAR now feels the conditions are safer to attempt a recovery operation. Retrieving the bodies is the priority. The car will be left in the canyon to be recovered at a later time. Positive identifications of the bodies have not been made yet, the Coroner’s Office will make those determinations during the autopsy process.
The operation began at 6:00 am on Friday. It is unknown how long it will take to complete. During this operation, only one lane of traffic will remain open to motorists traveling on Highway 180 through the immediate area. Caltrans and CHP will conduct traffic control to make sure vehicles can pass through in a safe manner.
In another non-related case, the Sheriff’s Office has located vehicle wreckage a short distance downstream from the red car, which is believed to belong to a missing Chinese couple. Their car, a 2012 white Ford Focus, is believed to have crashed sometime between August 6th and August 8th.
SAR will not be making an attempt to recover this wreckage on Friday. Instead, they will wait for river conditions to improve in order to allow the wreckage to become more accessible. It is still not confirmed whether the wreckage is that of the entire Ford Focus. The bodies of the two missing people, 31 year old Yinan Wang and 30 year old Jie Song, have still not been seen.