(AP) — Relatives of two exchange students from Thailand who were killed in California are planning funeral ceremonies after their bodies were pulled from a mangled rental car lodged on boulders in the middle of a river.
A recovery team reclaimed the two bodies on Friday from the car in the middle of the Kings River near Fresno after it careened down a 500-foot (152-meter) cliff on July 26.
Relatives of the two victims endured weeks of waiting before the team felt it was safe to enter the dangerous rapids deep in a gorge.
“It was agonizing for them,” said Tanee Sangrat, consul general at Thailand’s consulate in Los Angeles. The relatives have come to “accept the fates of their loved ones,” Sangrat said.
The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office used a helicopter to lower the recovery team into the river. They used a hand wench to pull the car close to the riverbank and free the bodies.
Crime scene analysts used fingerprints to confirm the identities as Pakapol Bhakapon Chairatnathrongporn, 28, and his female friend Thiwadee Saengsuriyarit, 24.
They two had been enrolled at the University of South Florida and were visiting Kings Canyon National Park in the Sierra Nevada, when the car crashed through a guardrail and plunged into the river.
The story has gripped residents of Thailand, Sangrat said.
Authorities have not yet released the cause of death. Once the remains are turned over to relatives, they will be cremated, with a ceremony expected later this week at a temple in North Hollywood.
Relatives of Saengsuriyarit will take her ashes back to Thailand, while Chairatnathrongporn’s cremated remains will be scattered in California, the consulate general said.
“He loved the U.S.,” Sangrat said.
The crash also led investigators to a second car that is submerged in the river nearby and is believed to hold the body of a Chinese couple.
Authorities say the river is still too dangerous to attempt a recovery involving that vehicle.