A body has been recovered in the ocean on Saturday, April 7, near the location where the Hart family’s SUV went over a California cliff, killing at least five people and leaving three children missing, according to a Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office news release.
Authorities said at around 1:58 p.m. on Saturday, a couple who were vacationing along the coast discovered a possible body floating in the surf of the Pacific Ocean at Juan Creek. The body was pulled from the waters onto the beach by a third bystander and was later recovered by Westport Fire Department.
The body appears to be that of an African American female but authorities were unable to positively identify the body or determine the age. An autopsy will be conducted on Tuesday, April 10, to determine the identity and cause of death of the body.
The Sheriff’s Office is looking into the possibility that the body may be one of the two missing Hart girls — 16-year-old Hannah Hart and 15-year-old Sierra Hart — but identification will most likely be done through DNA analysis, a process that can take several weeks, according to the statement.
“It is not uncommon after a significant storm, such as the one passing through the north state currently, to bring items to the surface or wash onto the beach. The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office is monitoring the ocean conditions to see when further searches might be safely conducted,” authorities said in the news release.
Authorities said no other signs of the other missing Hart children were found.
Jennifer, 38, and Sara Hart, 38, as well as three of their adopted children — 19-year-old Markis Hart, 14-year-old Jeremiah Hart, and 14-year-old Abigail Hart — have been identified as the victims of the crash. Three other children — 15-year-old Sierra Hart, 16-year-old Hannah Hart, and 15-year-old Devonte Hart — are considered missing, according to authorities.
Officials believe the crash was intentional and confirmed that the speedometer of Hart’s family SUV was “pinned or was traveling at 90 mph” in a previous update into the investigation.
Investigators have said the SUV stopped at a scenic Pacific Ocean viewpoint at the edge of Highway 1, about 180 miles north of San Francisco, then accelerated over the edge, leaving no skid marks or indications of a collision. This has led police to believe the crash was intentional.
Over the course of the week, some 71 police and search and rescue workers scoured beaches on foot, and used planes and boats to search the ocean for the missing children.
Authorities have been providing daily updates into the search and rescue efforts.
The crash occurred days after authorities began investigating accusations that the adopted children were being abused or neglected at home.
Reuters contributed to this report