Aaron West, The Triplicate

A small SUV drifted off the highway about three miles north of Gasquet on Sunday afternoon, careered about 50 feet down the side of a steep incline and landed in a crumpled heap by the side of the river. According to hospital representatives, both the driver and the passenger were in stable condition on Monday.

Frank Wythe, 72, and his passenger Carol Sharp, 66, both of Eureka, were driving south on Highway 199 when their vehicle, a silver 2006 Toyota Rav4, drifted off the left side of the road and plummeted down a hill, according to Sgt. Thoma of California Highway Patrol. Thoma said that there wasn't any indication that Wythe had been speeding or that drugs or alcohol were involved.

"Apparently they just drifted off the road. There weren't any skid marks," Thoma said. "They just got off on the gravel and wound up driving off the edge and into the river. They were banged up pretty good. They were taken to the hospital in an ambulance."

Despite the dramatic accident, Wythe, who was brought to Sutter Coast Hospital, and Carol, who was transferred to UC Davis Medical Center from Sutter Coast on Monday morning, were in stable condition on Monday, according to hospital representatives. Thoma said both occupants had been wearing their seat belts.

Gasquet Volunteer Fire Department, California Highway Patrol, Del Norte Search and Rescue and the U.S. Forest Service responded to the accident, which Thoma said was called in by a witness at around 3 p.m. According to Thoma, firefighters had removed the front right door with Jaws of Life by the time CHP arrived at around 3:20 p.m.

Gasquet Fire Chief Buzz Parlasca, who was at the scene, said both Wythe and Sharp were conscious and talking when firefighters and search and rescue team members retrieved them from the crushed vehicle and brought them up the hill. He said the vehicle ended up near the river but not in it. The vehicle was removed from the side of the river Sunday evening.

"It was actually easier that I expected. It came right up," Thoma said. "It tumbled down through the rocks on the way to the river, so it looked real bad. But it did it's job. A lot of safety stuff in cars now - they can look bad, but the occupants wound up with cuts and bruises and complaints of pain. It wasn't as bad as it would've been 25 years ago with an older car."

Reach Aaron West at awest@triplicate.com.