Star fighting for life after 300mph crash

Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond was in a critical condition in hospital last night after he was involved in a high-speed car crash while filming for the programme.

Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond was in a critical condition in hospital last night after he was involved in a high-speed car crash while filming for the programme.

Hammond, 36, was airlifted to Leeds General Infirmary after a rocket-powered dragster he was in crashed at Elvington airfield near York during an attempt to break the British land speed record.

It is believed he had already made one run of over 300mph when disaster struck.

Former firefighter Dave Ogden, who was one of the first people on the scene of the crash, said Hammond had drifted in and out of consciousness as he was pulled from the wreckage.

A hospital spokesman said Hammond, who is being treated in a neurological unit, was in a "critical" condition.

Mr Ogden said: "On the previous run the car had just gone over 300mph but I am not sure if it had broken the record. They had just done one more run and were planning to finish when it veered off to the right.

"One of the parachutes had deployed but it went on to the grass and spun over and over before coming to a rest about 100 yards from us."

Rescuers found the car upside down and "dug in" to the grass.

Mr Ogden said he felt for a pulse and heard Hammond, who was unconscious, breathing before the emergency crews worked together to turn the car the right way up. They then cut Hammond free.

"He was regaining consciousness at that point and said he had some lower back pain. But he was drifting in and out of consciousness a little bit."

Hammond, who often drives high-performance cars as part of presenting Top Gear, was born in Birmingham but lives just outside Cheltenham with his wife Mindy and daughters Isabella and Willow.

He started his broadcasting career with Radio Cumbria and Radio York and first appeared on British television screens on cable and satellite channels presenting motoring programmes before switching to the BBC's Top Gear in 2002.

Top Gear magazine editor Michael Harvey said: "Clearly at those kinds of speeds the tiniest little thing has to go wrong and the speed obviously massively exaggerates the consequences of anything going wrong."

James May, who co-presents the popular motor show with Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson, said he was devastated to learn his friend had been injured.

His agent, Annie Sweetbaum, said: "James is absolutely devastated. He's really shocked, and his words to me tonight were `he's such a good mate, I'm so upset'."

Former Top Gear presenter Quentin Willson said one of Hammond's best qualities was that he has "no fear".

He said: "He is a wonderful, unique and distinctive Top Gear presenter.

"He has brought an awful lot to the programme and his indefatigable energy, the fact that he tries absolutely anything once, may have been the reason that he has overstepped the mark a bit."

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