ഭാര്യയാണു വണ്ടി ഓടിച്ചു കൊണ്ടിരുന്നത്.
മഴയില് കുതിര്ന്ന വഴിയിലൂടെ വളവ് തിരിഞ്ഞു ചെല്ലുമ്പോള് മുന്നിലൊരു വാഹനം പതിയെ നീങ്ങുന്നു. ബ്രേക്ക് ചവിട്ടിയിട്ടില്ല എന്നാണു തോന്നിയതെന്നു പാറ്റ് പറയുന്നു (ഇംഗ്ലീഷ് കാണുക)
തുറ്റര്ന്നു റോഡരികിലുടെ നീങ്ങിയ വാഹനം താഴേക്കു പതിക്കുന്നത് നിസഹായരായി ഇരുവരും കണ്ടു.
ഉടനെ പാറ്റ് പോലീസിനെ വിളിച്ചു. വാഹനം അവിടെ നിര്ത്താന് പറ്റാത്തതു കൊണ്ട് അല്പം മുന്നോട്ട് പോയി നിര്ത്തി. തുടര്ന്നു മടങ്ങി വന്ന് ഉച്ചത്തില് ആരെങ്കിലും ഉണ്ടൊ എന്നു വിളിച്ചു ചോദിച്ചു. ആരെങ്കിലും വണ്ടിയില് നിന്നു തെറിച്ചു വീണിരിക്കാം എന്ന പ്രതീക്ഷയിലായിരുന്നു അത്. അപ്പോഴേക്കും മലവെള്ളപ്പാച്ചിലില് വാഹനം കാണാനുമില്ലാതായി.
രക്ഷാപ്രവര്ത്തകര് എത്തിയെങ്കിലും അവര്ക്കും കാര്യമായി ഒന്നും ചെയ്യാനായില്ല. നടുക്കം വിടാതെ നിന്ന പാറ്റിനെയും ഭര്യയേയും പോലീസ് ആശ്വസിസിപ്പിച്ചു. അവര് അറിയിച്ചിരുന്നില്ലെങ്കില് ഇങ്ങനെ ഒരു വാഹനം വീണ കാര്യം പോലും പുറം ലോകം അറിയില്ലായിരുന്നുവെന്നു അവര് ചൂണ്ടിക്കാട്ടി.
ഇന്നലെ വിവിധ ഏജന്സികളില് നിന്നുള്ള 30-ല് പരം പേര് നദിയില് തെരച്ചില് നടത്തിയെങ്കിലും വാഹനം കണ്ടെത്താനായില്ല. എന്നാല് ചുവന്ന ഹോണ്ട പൈലറ്റ് ആണു അപകടത്തില് പെട്ടതെന്നു സ്ഥിരീകരിച്ചു.
(വാര്ത്ത അനുവാദത്തോടെ: കിംകെമ്പ്)
Pat Berkowitz caught just a glimpse before the vehicle that had been pulling over in front of the car he was riding in tipped sideways, thrust two wheels into the air, and tumbled over the bank and out of sight on Friday, April 5 north of Leggett. Frantically, he called 911 as his wife pulled their car into the next pullout.
In terror, he said, he ran back up the road and followed the vehicle over the bank to where he could see the Eel River. There was nothing, the 67-year-old said, but oil spreading over the surface of the water.
By 1:10 p.m. last Friday, dispatchers were sending emergency vehicles scrambling to the scene in response to Berkowitz’s call. Meanwhile, Berkowitz, who had been traveling from Oregon with his wife, Lorraine, was standing stunned in the rain.
“We were en route to go down to San Francisco,” he told us over the phone last night. “We live in Brookings, Oregon.”
Berkowitz, a high school teacher, explained that this part of their trip had “bad driving conditions.” He said, “My wife was driving…I was on the cellphone texting.” He said he wasn’t really watching the road. “I was not completely aware of what is around us,” he said.
“We were going around a curve and the vehicle a bit in front of is was pulling off the road,” Berkowitz said. “My wife goes…’Oh! oh!'” He then began to look up and pay attention. “The car wasn’t going fast,” he explained. “I don’t think he hit his brakes…The car was not stopping…It goes up on two wheels and tumbled over the edge.” He paused, took a breath, and continued, “I remember seeing the underside of the car.”
In horror, the couple continued past the pullout to one nearby that was larger. “We couldn’t stop there,” he said, “’cause it wasn’t safe.” As they drove past, Berkowitz dialed 911 and described the situation.
When they came to a stop, he said he headed back up the road to the accident scene. The vehicle had rolled down the bank and he followed it. “I’m not young,” he explained, “and my wife wasn’t happy that I’m putting myself in an unsafe position.”
As he went over the edge and down towards the distant river, he saw a few bits of debris from the vehicle. “I could see where a mirror for the car had tumbled,” he said. But as he neared the river, he couldn’t see the vehicle that had rolled down the bank. “The car was submerged,” he said. But he said he saw oil spreading over the water.
Berkowitz said he shouted in hopes that someone might have been flung out but no one answered. “We stayed there trying to look and trying to help,” he said. But, ultimately it was decided that a rescue or recovery couldn’t be attempted. The swollen river was too dangerous for crews to attempt to search for the vehicle.
He said he and his wife have been badly shaken. He tried to take comfort in the words of a California Highway Patrol officer at the scene. “He thanked us because if we hadn’t let them know, no one would have known the vehicle had gone in the water.” Still, he said, it left he and his wife with “such a feeling of helplessness.”
Though thanks to the Berkowitz’s, it was known that a vehicle went off the edge of Hwy 101 and into the swollen Eel River north of Leggett and disappeared before it could be identified, no one knew the occupants or where they had been traveling.
Meanwhile, kinsfolk and friends of the Thottapilly family that had been on a road trip began to worry when they didn’t arrive as expected at a relative’s home. Eventually, family members contacted law enforcement and put out a flyer.
Locals who had been at the crash site on the Eel River believed that the pieces of the vehicle left on the hillside indicated that it had been a maroon Honda Pilot which matched the missing family’s car. By Monday, social media was buzzing with the news that the missing family might have been in the vehicle under the muddy, engorged Eel River.
California Highway Patrol Officer William Wunderlich confirmed Tuesday morning that “similar parts were located.” But, he noted, “But none of those have confirmed specifically that it is the vehicle registered to the missing family…There was no license plate or vin number.” And he noted, “It is a very popular vehicle model.”
He said that the Highway Patrol was “aware of the missing person’s report.” But, he said, “We don’t have any evidence to match the vehicles though they are similar in type and in color…When we have the right and positive information, we will release that.”
By the afternoon on Tuesday, multiple agencies and volunteer groups assembled on the bank of the Eel River to search for the missing vehicle. Approximately, 30 volunteers from Search and Rescue groups across Southern Humboldt and Mendocino Counties brought boats and other gear to the accident scene.
Earlier rain and clouds had been swept away and warm sun shone down on the crews. The Eel River was still swift and muddy but it had dropped a good deal since last Friday.
Southern Humboldt County Technical Rescue and Hopland Fire Department sent their swift water rescue teams. There were other volunteers
Other agencies and volunteers at the scene included Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, Cal Fire, Leggett Volunteer Fire, and Piercy Volunteer Fire.
Items from the wreck were gathered and brought back to shore. But no vehicle and no bodies were located.
Many of the people searching had left jobs and families in order to help. They did it with no pay and, for the most part, no thanks from early afternoon until evening.
They did it because a family needed to know if their loved ones had perished.
And, today…they’ll do it again…