LOCUST TOWNSHIP - A brave bare-chested man wearing shorts jumped into Laura's Lake at Ideal Park campground Thursday afternoon and rescued an elderly Mount Carmel woman from a sinking car that drifted into the water from a nearby pebbled road.

Virginia Lindenmuth, 79, of 423 W. Fourth St., was listed in critical condition at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville following the 3 p.m. freak accident and heroic rescue effort just off High Meadow Road.

Lindenmuth was pulled out the driver's side window of the red Buick by 50-year-old Mark Hoffman who was just about to take a shower in his camper when he spotted the auto drifting forward between two trees toward a small embankment leading to the lake's shoreline.

Locust Township Officer Jason Sudol said Lindenmuth and her 81-year-old husband, John, had just pulled in to visit Hoffman, his girlfriend, Maria Benjamin, 46, of Mahanoy City, and her mother, Adele Benjamin, also of Mahanoy City, at their campsite near the lake.

According to police, John Lindenmuth, who was driving, exited the vehicle but failed to put the car in park. It drifted forward into the lake with his wife as a front-seat passenger.

'It was crazy'

Hoffman, who resides at 531 Columbia Ave., Aristes, said he initially attempted to stop the car from descending the embankment, but was unable to do so. He then dove into the lake and swam about 30 yards, where he reached the car as it became submerged in approximately 10 feet of water.

"I'm just glad she's alive," Hoffman said as he sat in a chair next to his camper taking a well deserved rest after the rescue. "It was a struggle getting her out. I had to jump through the driver's side window to reach her because all the other windows and doors were locked. Then I had to get her seat belt off. The water in the car was up to my hips and I knew I had to get her out as fast as I could. I tried grabbing her a couple times until finally I was able to get a good grip."

He said the rescue took about 5 to 10 minutes.

Hoffman, who considers himself a decent swimmer, added, "She kept yelling that she couldn't swim. It was crazy. I never did anything like that before."

The Aristes man, who spends his summers at the campground, was able to safely swim to shore with Lindenmuth, where they were initially assisted by his girlfriend moments before Locust Township Police Chief Allen Breach and Tom Runge, a township supervisor and longtime firefighter and emergency medical technician, provided CPR to the victim, who wasn't breathing.

Breach and Runge, who were later assisted at the scene by Sudol, Locust Township Assistant Police Chief John Brokenshire and members of Valley Chemical Fire Company in Numidia, were able to revive Lindenmuth and she was responsive when placed on a backboard and rushed by MICU 61 of Bloomsburg to Geisinger.

Two medics from Life Flight helicopter that landed near a cornfield also went with Lindenmuth in the ambulance.

Hoffman escaped injury.

Several campers offered their assistance and support to Hoffman and Mr. Lindenmuth, who was severely shaken by the incident and evaluated by medical personnel at the scene before being taken by private vehicle to Geisinger to check on his wife.

'Hell of a job'

John Miller, 57, of Elysburg, who has a campsite nearby and witnessed the rescue, said Hoffman "did a hell of a job." He added, "Mark had his hands full trying to get the lady out and then all of a sudden she came out of the car like a cork coming out of a bottle."

Maria Benjamin, who was very proud of her boyfriend's efforts, added, "Everything happened so quickly. I remember saying, 'Oh my God, there's a car in the lake.'"

And then the car

As if the rescue effort wasn't enough excitement for the day, police still faced the challenge of removing the Buick from the lake.

That dilemma took a little more than an hour.

Shortly after Breach returned to the scene with his scuba diving gear including an air tank, Steve Blass from Bucher's Towing in Catawissa pulled up with a flat bed and plenty of heavy duty cable and chains.

After swimming out to locate the submerged auto, Breech came back to shore to retrieve cable and chains from Blass. Breech was assisted in securing the vehicle in the water by 31-year-old Matthew Becker, of Mechanicsville, Md.

Becker, who is 6 feet, 3 inches tall and weighs approximately 260 pounds, was visiting his family at the campground when he heard about the incident. He retrieved a paddle boat from across the lake and made his way out to Breech and the car, while Subol and Blass assisted with towing operations from ashore.

Becker, who works for the Charles County Sheriff and Corrections Office in Maryland, is a son of Robert and Maudie Becker, of Seltzer, near Minersville.

The car was brought to shore and loaded onto the flat bed at about 5:30 p.m.

Two purses owned by Virginia Lindenmuth, a shoe, a set of keys and a pair of glasses belonging to Hoffman were retrieved from the vehicle or lake.