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Bodies Believed to Be USF Students Recovered from California River

Fresno County Sheriff's Office
On Friday, Fesno County Sheriff's officers used a helicopter to help recover what are believed to be the bodies of two USF students from Thailand from a car that's been stuck in the middle of the King River for five weeks.

More than a month ago, a pair of  University of South Florida students from Thailand disappeared on a visit to California.

Now, what are believed to be their bodies have finally been recovered from the scene of a car accident.

Bhakapon Chairattanasongporn, 28, and Thiwadee Saengsuriyarit, 24, are believed to have died when their car crashed July 26 on a freeway east of Fresno and fell off a 500-foot cliff.

The vehicle had been inaccessible, because it was resting on boulders in the middle of the King River. In addition, heavy snowmelt in the area had created high, dangerous rapids. Officials had to wait until that water slowed down enough to operate a safe recovery.

On Friday, Fresno County Sheriff's search and rescue crews used a helicopter to retrieve the bodies from the vehicle.

Sheriff's officials said the 2016 Hyundai Sonata had been stuck against a rock. They first moved the car a short way from the rock before using tools to get inside the vehicle and free the bodies, which were then lifted to the helicopter.

Family members of both students were present during the recovery and were able to perform a short ritual. Officials say the bodies will be formally identified during an autopsy.

Credit Fresno County Sheriff's Office
Fresno County Sheriff's Office
After falling down a 500 foot cliff, the car came to rest against a rock in the middle of the King River. Crews used a winch to move it enough to finally free the bodies.

In a post on the department's Facebook page, Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said: “I would like to thank the families of the victims for their patience and understanding during this long, difficult process. It’s always been our goal to deliver peace to you so that you could hold the necessary services for your loved ones. Hopefully you may now move forward in the healing process.

"I would also like to thank Thailand’s U.S. Consulate office in Los Angeles and the greater Thai community for its support throughout this operational planning phase. Having an open line of communication and knowing you were by our side was invaluable.

"Finally, I want to thank our personnel (deputies and volunteers) and other agencies such as CHP and Caltrans for their hard work of rising to the challenge and reaching a successful outcome. This truly was a team effort.”

USF officials say both were registered for classes this fall, with Chairattanasongporn pursuing a masters' in industrial engineering, while Saengsuriyarit was classified as a non-degree seeking student.

Officials with the USF College of Engineering have indicated that the school, the international student entry group USF INTO, and the USF Thai Student Association will hold a service to honor the students once their bodies are positively identified.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
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