Bodies, believed to be USF students, still not recovered after crash

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It's been about three weeks, but the bodies of two people believed to be students from the University of South Florida are still trapped in a car that went off a cliff in California.

Investigators said a red car drove off Highway 180, falling 500 feet before crashing into the rocks of the Kings River, but they're too far down a dangerous terrain for crews to easily retrieve. 

While they have not been able to recover the two bodies inside the car, Fresno County deputies believe the driver and passenger are Thiwadee Saengsuriyarit, 24, and Bhakapon Chairattanasongporn, 28, who are both registered as foreign exchange students from Thailand at USF.

"We got the information of the car that they were driving, which was a rental. We were able to visually get a good look at the car down there, get some numbers off of it and compare it to that rental agreement. We confirmed that it was, in fact, the car that they had," said Tony Botti, public information officer for the Fresno County Sheriff's Office.

RELATED: USF students believed killed in California crash; bodies stranded

According to a spokesperson for USF, Saengsuriyarit was classified as a non-degree seeking student. Chairattanasongporn was pursuing a masters degree in industrial engineering.

Both students were registered for classes this fall.

Authorities believe the two were vacationing in California before classes resume next week.

Extreme rapids and cold water from snow melt have prevented recovery crews from getting to the car to retrieve the bodies.

"We've determined that air support can get into the gorge with enough cable to reach the car, however, getting personnel into or near the car to rig it to be able to move or drag the vehicle is extremely dangerous," Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims explained Monday.

Family members from Thailand, who flew to California, and the Thai Consulate in Los Angeles questioned why recovery efforts are taking so long -- until they saw the wreckage for themselves.

"We understand now. Before, we [were] concerned because they [didn't do anything]," said Riwong Ayasid, a member of the Fresno Thai community.

The cause of the crash is still under investigation.

Fresno County deputies are also investigating a missing couple from San Diego who may have driven off the same cliff. The license plate from their vehicle was found on the river bank, and parts of their car were found floating near the wrecked vehicle from the USF students.

Representatives with the California Highway Patrol told FOX 13 that Highway 180 is a very winding road, but accidents at that cliff are not common.