A sinkhole 30 feet deep appeared overnight in the driveway of a private residence in High Wycombe and swallowed the family car parked there.
The 15-foot wide crater is affecting the home of Phil and Liz Conran, in Main Road, Walter's Ash, High Wycombe. The blue VW Lupo that disappeared in to the sinkhole belonged to the couple’s 19-year-old daughter Zoe, who was the first to discover the crater when she left the house early in the morning.
Mrs Conran said, “My daughter went to go and let her horses out because she was going off somewhere for the day. She got to the door and saw her car wasn't there. She thought that was a bit weird, so she went round to the kitchen window and then she saw the crater and just started screaming.
"We had no idea whether the car was actually in the hole or not. We couldn't get close enough to have a look right down to the bottom, it's about 30 feet deep. The car is on its side, its full of soil."
She said the family, including her 59-year-old husband Phil who works as an environmental consultant, were stunned at the size of the crater that had appeared in the driveway of their home, where they have lived for the last nine and a half years.
"It's just swallowed the car whole,” Mrs Conran said. “The car has managed to rotate and turn, it's on its side but its also facing the opposite way from where it was parked.
"It's one of those natural things that has happened, probably been made worse by the fact that they've mined in the area in the past."
On discovering the hole, the family rang the local police, whose initial advice was that this was a matter for the building and car insurers. However, two police cars and a fire engine turned up shortly after the phone call.
Paul Beetham, a lecturer in civil engineering at Nottingham Trent University, said: "High Wycombe is a chalk area, and chalk has properties quite different to other types of rock. Areas underlain by chalk may contain natural voids or caves which formed over many thousands of years as groundwater passed through and dissolved the chalk.
"High Wycombe is also an area that has been mined historically for chalk and, occasionally, mining areas can have access shafts which were not capped off correctly, leading to loose material overlaying these voids.
"While such cavities may remain intact below ground for hundreds of years, very rarely the sudden collapse of the material may occur, perhaps when disturbed by extreme rainfall or a recent change in land use."
Mr Beetham said this type of occurrence is rare in the UK and there are "well-mapped" areas where chalk or limestone underlie the ground, such as the Peak District.
He said around five per cent of the surface area of the UK could potentially have such rock underneath, but not all will have conditions that could promote sinkholes.
In December 2013, witnesses reported a sinkhole in the village of Foolow, in the Peak District, which was said to have measured around 160ft wide.
Sinkholes around the world have made headlines in the last few years. In February 2013, 37-year-old Jeff Bush was killed when his detached bungalow in Tampa, Florida, disappeared into a huge hole as he slept. A sinkhole reported to be nearly 200ft wide in China's Sichuan province swallowed around a dozen buildings in December 2013, but no one was seriously injured.