Crews recover bodies from car submerged in Kings River

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SAN DIEGO -- Law enforcement personnel in Central California Thursday recovered the bodies of a San Diego couple believed to have been trapped in their car when it crashed into the rushing Kings River in the Sierra Nevada.

The effort to hoist the sunken vehicle out of the waterway near Horseshoe Bend in Kings Canyon National Park began around dawn Thursday morning, according to the Fresno County Sheriff-Coroner's Office.

Deputies were able to pull the car a short distance out of the water, making it much safer to access. A team then used tools to get inside the car and free both bodies.

A license plate from a white 2012 Ford Focus belonging to 31-year-old Yinan Wang and his 30-year-old wife, Jie Song, was found in August in a patch of brush near where another car had crashed off Highway 180 the previous month.

Helicopter crews flew over the site, spotting the wreckage of a car submerged deep in the river. Due to heavy rapids and high water levels authorities were unable to get to the wreckage. Conditions have improved since then, according to sheriff's spokesman Tony Botti.

"Presently, the amount of water flowing through this portion of the river is down nearly 10 times from what it was in early August," Botti said. "This has created safer conditions for (public-safety personnel) to attempt a recovery operation."

Wang and Song have been missing for nearly two months. A relative reported on the morning of Aug. 11 that the couple had last been seen five days earlier, when they visited Crystal Caves in Sequoia National Park.

They had planned to drive to Fresno that night, continue on to Yosemite National Park the next day and return to San Diego on Aug. 9, Botti said.

The vehicle presumed to be theirs came to rest in the river about 40 yards from where a red 2016 Hyundai Sonata had crashed in July, killing two Thai exchange students from the University of South Florida.

Deputies recovered the victims' bodies early last month but have been unable to retrieve the car due to safety concerns.

Officials plan to leave the wreckage of both vehicles in the gorge for the time being, until conditions are more favorable for hauling them out.

It's believed to be a coincidence that both cars crashed in the same area within weeks of each other, though Botti described the scenic highway in that area as a very winding passage at the edge of  "one of the largest canyons in the country."

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