A 78-year-old woman had her arm ripped off in a bizarre accident involving the electric window of a car in Hayle, Devon. The mishap occurred when the woman reached into the car to press the window button and when she turned the ignition, not realising the car was in gear, the car lurched forward, trapping her am and ripping it off.

Police said the woman, who has not been identified, suffered "life-changing injuries" in the accident which took place outside a bungalow in Penmare Close at 3:50pm BST on Saturday (27 August).

Her arm was retrieved and she was airlifted by helicopter to Derriford Hospital, 70 miles away in Plymouth, where surgeons said they hoped to be able to reattach the limb, which was severed above the elbow.

A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall Police said: "What appears to have happened is that she lent into the car to close the electric windows. She turned on the ignition to get the power for the electric windows, but unfortunately, the car was in gear and lurched forward – trapping her hand or arm. In the process of doing that, it has taken her arm off."

According to US-based Kids and Cars, every year 2,000 people in the US alone are taken to hospital with power window-related injuries, half of them children. The same organisation claims at least 35 children have died as a result of such a mishap in the past 10 years, mostly by strangulation. Most modern car windows have sensors that make them "bounce" down if they strike an obstacle.

In 2007, five-year-old Michael Dury died in Croydon, Surrey when he was caught in the window of his family car. His mum had left him and his younger brother playing for just five minutes.