A recovery team using a helicopter and a winch on Friday dragged a car from the middle of a dangerous California river where it had been stranded for more than a month and freed two bodies inside believed to be a pair of exchange students from Thailand, the AP reports. The car had crashed through a guardrail and plunged 500 feet over a cliff in the Sierra Nevada into the Kings River below, authorities said. After weeks of planning and waiting for the river water to calm, a helicopter lowered members of the recovery team into the gorge. They used a hand winch to drag the car close to the bank and free the two bodies. The remains have been sent to the coroner's office for positive identification, Fresno County Sheriff spokesman Tony Botti said.
On July 26, the exchange students were driving a rented car on curvy Highway 180 along a steep canyon 75 miles east of Fresno when it crashed and became lodged on boulders in the middle of the river. The slow pace to launch the recovery had prompted emotional pleas to authorities from relatives traveling in from Asia. But only now has the river—with thundering rapids fed by massive amounts of snowmelt high in the Sierra Nevada—calmed enough to make conditions safe for the recovery team, officials said. Investigators linked the car with Thiwadee Saengsuriyarit, 24, and her male friend Pakapol Chairatnathrongporn, 28, who had been enrolled at the University of South Florida. Authorities will await autopsies to confirm their identities.