POLICE and fire chiefs have today praised the heroic efforts of passers-by who pulled a Hampshire family from the wreckage of their car - moments before it burst into flames.

Five people from Hampshire - including three children - were rescued from the Mercedes estate following the crash yesterday.

The 43-year-old driver was left fighting for his life after the head on collision with a Ford Ranger SUV.

All five in the Mercedes were from Southampton, police said.

Three were taken to hospital by air ambulances following the crash on the A66 at Threlkeld, near Keswick, in the Lake District at 9.24am today.

The driver was flown to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Newcastle by air ambulance with what police said were critical, potentially life-threatening injuries.

The Great North Air Ambulance said he suffered chest injuries and multiple broken limbs.

The front seat passenger, a 43-year-old woman, was also flown to the Newcastle hospital along with one of three teenage children in the car.

The other two children and the driver of the Ford, a 61-year-old woman from Sheffield, South Yorkshire, were taken to Carlisle Infirmary with minor injuries.

A police spokesman said: ''The Mercedes estate did set on fire, but all the occupants were pulled free by members of the public.

''It was their quick reaction that ensured those involved were taken to safety prior to the car igniting.''

A station manager from Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service, who was at the scene, also heaped praise on the first "brave" people to arrive saying they were "superb".