It seemed a routine matter when police received calls from motorists that a car had veered off the A3 with its headlights blazing.
But when officers went to investigate, they found no sign of the vehicle. Indeed, it appeared to have vanished.
A further search was ordered, however, with chilling results.
Just 20 yards from the reported 'crash scene' and buried in twisted undergrowth was the remains of a wrecked car containing the skeleton of a man.
Its lights were off - the car's battery had long since died - and the body was badly decomposed.
Surrey Police said yesterday they believed the crash happened in July this year - and that the driver's body had laid undiscovered for months. Motorists are now wondering if what they saw was a ghostly apparition of the original crash on the Portsmouth to London road at Burpham, near Guildford, Surrey.
The driver has been identified as a 21-year- old man last seen alive in London on July 16.
A police spokesman said: 'The family have been informed and confirmed that they reported him missing in July.
'We do not yet know why he would have been travelling in Surrey.'
His identity was established after checking the registration number of the E-registered maroon Vauxhall Astra. Police were withholding his name last night. It is understood that they wish to carry out a formal identification using dental records.
Surrey Police were called to the scene at 7.20pm on Wednesday after reports of 'the accident' were phoned in.
When they arrived they found nothing and it was not until officers began poking around in the undergrowth that they discovered the car, nose-down in a ditch, impossible to see from the road.
A police spokesman said last night: 'We believe the car left the road and ended up in the ditch surrounded by trees and undergrowth during July.
'It doesn't appear that any other vehicles were involved.
'It was then the summer months and the car was covered by the trees and undergrowth.
'Although it was only 20 yards from the road it could not be seen and there were no footpaths close to the spot.
'The car had obviously been there for a long time and thousands of motorists will have passed the spot every day.
'Although the car was not clearly visible, it is possible people may have seen it and just not thought to report it.'
Sergeant Russ Greenhouse, of Surrey Police, added: 'The car was discovered as a result of a report from members of the public who thought they saw a car's headlights veering off the road.
'The officers could not identify that collision but they had the presence of mind to search on foot and they found this car.'
Source: Daily Mail