A Lincoln Continental went airborne off a rain-slicked Capital Beltway ramp yesterday and wound up nose down in a clump of trees.

For 20 minutes, the car's front bumper scraped dirt, its taillights pointed skyward as it dangled there, embraced by the nearly leafless branches.

Trapped inside, upside down, was the driver. She was an elderly woman, a fire official said, "probably in her seventies or eighties."

The woman survived.

"She was not even unconscious," Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Pete Piringer said.

The predicament of the woman, who was not identified yesterday, began about 11:30 a.m. as she steered her car onto a ramp connecting the Clara Barton Parkway in Montgomery to the outer loop of the Beltway heading into Fairfax County. Going into a curve, the driver lost control of the car, hit a guardrail and lost contact with the road, Piringer said.

"She kind of got up on the guardrail and kind of rode that, which made the car go airborne," Piringer said. "And the wheels left the road."

The accident occurred on a stretch of the Beltway bracketed by forests: the National Park Service's Chesapeake & Ohio Canal in Maryland and Scotts Run Nature Preserve in Virginia.

When the car came to rest in the trees, its front end "gently hit the ground," Piringer said. "The trees buffered her."

The woman's rescue was choreographed by county fire crews skilled at securing ropes and chains in such situations, and they were helped by a crew stationed at the nearby Naval Surface Warfare Center at Carderock, which attached more rigging to the car.

After the rescue teams stabilized the Lincoln, a paramedic went in to help the woman crawl out of the front seat and onto the roadway.

She was taken to a hospital with minor bumps and bruises.

A car rests at the side of the road after it went off the ramp at upper left and landed in some trees at right. Rescue crews retrieved the car and its driver.