Helicopter will begin removing car from Crater Lake next week

Officials have released the names of the Ashland couple whose car, with their dog inside, plunged 1,100 feet into Crater Lake.

Crater Lake National Park officials say Shauna McHugh and Tobias Swanson were enjoying the view Saturday night from an overlook near North Junction Scenic Overlook when their 2003 Volkswagen Passat tumbled over the edge of the caldera and splashed into the lake below.

The driver apparently didn't set the emergency brake on the car when he got out, a press release about the incident said. Original reports said the car was a 1993 Passat.

The car rolled backward out of the parking area and over the rim. A park spokeswoman said the dog reportedly climbed out the sunroof early in the car's descent and was able to climb out of the caldera.

It took the dog, an Akita mix named Haley, about 15 minutes to make her way back up the 600-foot slope to her owners.

The dog suffered only minor injuries, park officials said.

The investigation revealed the car rolled backward in an arc across the scenic overlook's parking area for almost 100 feet. It cruised through a narrow opening between the rock wall and a clump of trees and went over the edge of the caldera.

It fell more than 1,000 feet and came to rest in 10 to 30 feet of water, park officials said.

Its engine, transmission and drive train are scattered along the wall of the caldera, in a trail of car parts and personal items from inside the car.

The clean-up and recovery will be a challenge because of the steep terrain, loose rock and limited lake access. The removal will come in two stages, beginning with a helicopter operation scheduled for next week, weather permitting. The second phase will most likely required experienced rescue personnel who might repel down into the caldera to clean up debris.

The park said protecting the pristine nature of the lake is of the highest priority.

Park visitors are reminded to always place their vehicles in "park" and set the emergency brake before exiting their vehicles along scenic overlooks.

The last mishap of this kind occurred in October of 1922 when a brand new Lincoln belonging to a couple from Klamath Falls rolled over the rim and into the lake near the present day location of the Sinnott Memorial Overlook in Rim Village, park officials said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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