SAN DIEGO — Nearly two weeks after pulling a pair of bodies out of a car stuck in the swollen Kings River east of Fresno, a sheriff’s official said Tuesday there’s “definitely a chance” recovery crews won’t be able to gain access this year to a second car that’s submerged in the river and believed to contain the bodies of a San Diego couple.
“There’s not much we can do. This winter was like no other and there’s water flowing a lot longer into later months than in past years,” Fresno County Sheriff’s public information officer Tony Botti said.
Search-and-rescue crews from Botti’s office faced a predicament earlier this summer when a car crashed off Highway 180 into the river. The water was too strong and too dangerous for rescuers to access the red sedan, which was left partially perched on a rock on July 26. Inside the car were the bodies of two Thai exchange students from the University of South Florida.
The situation took a twist about two weeks later when a search-and- rescue member watching news coverage about the crash and recovery effort noticed a license plate in the same area that wasn’t connected to the red sedan. Officials later discovered it from a white Ford Focus belonging to a missing San Diego couple, and a further search of the area turned up the Focus completely submerged in the river about 40 yards from the red sedan.
The bodies of the San Diego couple — Yinan Wang, 31, and his wife, 30- year-old Jie Song — are believed to still be trapped inside the Focus. Wang and Song were reported missing the second week of August after they failed to return to San Diego from a planned trip to Sequoia and Yosemite national parks and Fresno. The couple was last seen Aug. 6 at the Crystal Caves in Sequoia and never made it to Fresno.
Investigators believe their car crashed off Highway 180 not far from where the Thai students’ car crashed, and like the red sedan, the Focus was in an area of the river that was too deep and too swift, with Class V rapids, for search-and-rescue crews to access.
On Sept. 1, the river receded enough for crews to reach the red sedan through the use of a helicopter, a manual winch system and several brave deputies. But the San Diego couple’s car, and likely their bodies, remain under water.
“Since the wreckage is submerged, we have to wait for the river to go down considerably more,” Botti said. “The goal is to try to get it out, or at least the people anyway. We’re assuming they’re in the car because nobody has seen their bodies.”
But to reach the Focus and Wang and Song’s remains, officials need the water to drop below a certain flow rate. Because of last winter’s heavy snowfall and continued runoff, the river may not recede that much this year.
“The flow rate there is about 380 (cubic feet per second),” Botti said. “It would almost have to go close to zero for us to reach them. If it gets to 100, we’ll have a chance.”
Botti said deputies are regularly monitoring the river, but there’s “definitely a chance” they won’t be able to make a recovery attempt this year.
“If we get more storms, that will push us back,” Botti said. “If it slows down, that favors us.”