If dogs could talk, this one would have quite a tale to tell. The canine was inside a car which rolled over the edge of the caldera at Crater Lake National Park and plunged about 1,100 feet down the steep slope. What was left of the vehicle ended up in the lake, but incredibly, the dog escaped with only minor injuries.
The mishap occurred last Saturday evening when Shauna McHugh and Tobias Swanson, both from Ashland, Oregon, stopped near the North Junction Scenic Overlook in the park. After the pair got out of their car, the 2003 Volkswagen Passat rolled backward in an arc across the parking area for approximately 100 feet, through a narrow opening between the rock wall and a clump of trees, and finally over the edge of the caldera.
The car fell more than 1,100 feet and what was left of the vehicle came to rest in 10 to 30 feet of water at the edge of the lake. A preliminary investigation indicated the driver failed to engage the emergency brake when she got out of the car.
This was a situation that included both bad news and good news: McHugh’s dog, Haley, was in the car when it plunged over the brink, but the canine was ejected through the sunroof of the car as it was falling. Incredibly, the dog survived with only minor injuries. It took the animal, a Dingo-Akita mix, approximately 15 minutes to make her way back up approximately 600 feet of talus slope to the top, where she was reunited with her owner.
The dog's ejection was a fortuitous development; the vehicle disintegrated as it crashed down the steep slope, leaving a trail of shattered vehicle parts and personal belongings between the rim and the water. According to Marsha McCabe, the park's public information officer, only a small section of the car remained intact when the vehicle reached the water. The engine, transmission, drive train and other parts were scattered along the rocky wall of the caldera.
Although the vehicle's occupants are safe and accounted for, the incident is far from over. Park officials are anxious to remove the debris as quickly as possible, before the heavy snows common to Crater Lake each winter began to fall. That's a valid concern—average annual snowfall at park headquarters is a whopping 524 inches—and snow typically begins to accumulate in October. Not only would snow make clean-up difficult, but runoff from melting snow next spring could carry contaminants from the wreck into the pristine water of the lake.
The salvage job won't be an easy one. The slope is extremely steep and long, and the surface is covered with loose rock. A plan is being devised; preliminary options include use of a helicopter to haul out larger pieces of the wreckage, followed by climbers rappelling over the side of the caldera to remove the remaining debris.
Despite the large numbers of vehicles that make the 33-mile drive around the rim above the lake each summer, such accidents are rare. According to the park, this is only the second known incident where a car went over the edge and made it all the way down to the lake. The previous mishap occurred in October 1922, when a brand new Lincoln belonging to a couple from Klamath Falls, Oregon, rolled over the rim of Crater Lake near the present day location of the Sinnott Memorial Overlook in Rim Village.
In the wake of this latest miscue, park officials issued a reminder to visitors to "always place their vehicles in 'park' and set the emergency brake before exiting their vehicles along the scenic overlooks," and to "Please keep hold of children and pets and enjoy the beautiful views of the lake from behind rock walls and wooden railings."
Sounds like good advice. If the dog in last Saturday's "ride" could talk, I bet she'd agree.