Extensive search launched for missing Hart children in Californi - KPTV - FOX 12

Extensive search launched for missing Hart children in California

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MENDOCINO COUNTY, CA (KPTV) -

More than 70 search and rescue personnel are looking for three missing children of a Woodland, Washington family. Five members of the family died in a car crash off a cliff last week in northern California.

Jennifer and Sarah Hart and three of their six adopted children were killed in the crash in Mendocino County on March 26. Their other three adopted children, Devonte, 15, Hannah, 16, and Sierra, 12, were believed to be in the car, but they have not yet been located.

The search for the three missing children intensified early Wednesday morning as crews gathered near MacKerricher State Park. 

The search area will focus from Noyo Harbor to MacKerricher State Park based upon ocean current and drift pattern analysis conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard. A further search will be conducted focusing south of the crash site. The search operation will include aircraft and land crews from numerous agencies.

Coast Guard boats are on standby if needed.

“We are prioritizing this search. There’s a storm coming in tomorrow, so anything that may have washed up on the beach – either debris from the vehicle, or bodies if that’s what it were, we do not want them taken out by this storm if they are on a beach that we can find them," said Sgt. Shannon Bradley with Mendocino County Sheriff's Office.

FOX 12 learned that a cell phone was found at the crash site on Tuesday. The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office confirms it was recovered, but they are not yet sure if it belonged to one of the Hart's.

The cell phone has been turned over to California Highway Patrol investigators.

CHP said investigators believe the crash that killed the Hart family was intentional, as the SUV stopped 70 feet from the cliff before it plunged over the side without any signs of braking. 

Court documents related to the case said the speedometer was “pinned” at 90 mph.

Authorities are trying to track the family's whereabouts since the day they left Woodland and the day of the crash.

On Tuesday, CHP released a new image of Jennifer Hart at a Safeway store in Fort Bragg, California. The image was taken on March 25, one day before the deadly crash.

Authorities also released a map of the route they believe the Hart family took after leaving home.

Investigators said it is now believed the Hart family was in or around Newport, Oregon at 8:15 a.m. March 24. It is believed they continued south along Highway 101 until they reached Highway 1 in Leggett, California.

They then traveled south on Highway 1 to the Fort Bragg area, where they remained until around 9 p.m. March 25.

What spurred the trip might never be known, but just days before, Washington State Department of Social and Health Services opened a Child Protective Services investigation of the family on March 23, as the agency reported the children were identified as potential victims of abuse or neglect. 

RELATED:

4/3: Investigators piece together Woodland family’s travel route before deadly California crash?
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4/1: Crash that killed Woodland family may have been intentional act, CHP says
3/31: Court docs: Speedometer in Woodland family’s car ‘pinned’ at 90 mph in deadly California crash
3/29: Search warrant served at home of Woodland family killed in California crash
3/28: Deputies ID family from Woodland killed in California crash; three children missing

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