Huntington Beach Marine Safety Officer Claude Panis attaches a chain to hook a tow truck to pull a submerged car from the water at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach.

Huntington Beach Marine Safety Officer Claude Panis attaches a chain to hook a tow truck to pull a submerged car from the water at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times / December 24, 2012)

Authorities in Huntington Beach pulled a Mitsubishi Lancer from the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve on Monday morning. No one was found inside the car nor in the water in the area.

The airbags in the car had deployed.

A passerby noticed the car in the shallow water off the road about 6:50 a.m. and called authorities. Huntington Beach lifeguards and firefighters searched the water and found no bodies in the area south of Warner Avenue on Pacific Coast Highway.

"It's not a weekly occurrence, but it happens several times a year," said Huntington Police Department Lt. Brian Seitz. "It's a narrow strip of the PCH and some people lose control for whatever reason."

The wetlands can be very shallow or deep depending on the tide, Seitz said.

Police believe the car was heading northbound on PCH when it crashed through the guardrail and into the water. The driver might have fled the scene. It was unclear if the Lancer crashed into the water Sunday evening or the early hours Monday.

As a tow truck hauled the vehicle from the water at daybreak Monday,  a small Christmas tree ornament was visible hanging from the the rearview mirror.

This story was reported by Times Staff Writers Richard Winton and Adolfo Flores.