AIR accident investigators are to launch an inquiry after a 70-year-old pilot escaped with minor injuries following a crash-landing in a field.

It is believed the engine of the single seat light aircraft dramatically cut out in mid air, forcing the experienced airman, from Gateshead, to take emergency action.

He landed on grass between Bowburn and Shincliffe to the west of the A1M, in County Durham.

The crash wrecked the craft but, remarkably, the pilot, who is from the Heworth area and has not been identified, walked away relatively unscathed.

The incident happened at around 2pm on Saturday after he took off from Fishburn Airfield, near Sedgefield.

A spokesman for the airfield, which was opened in 1995 by former Prime Minister Tony Blair when he was MP, said: “One of the pilots had an engine failure, called in a ‘mayday’ and made a successful crash-landing into a field.

“He has walked with a few bruises and a graze. He is fine. It is extremely unusual.

“We alerted the authorities to let them know there was an emergency and they started the search.”

Police, ambulance, fire and the Great North Air Ambulance were called to the area after receiving several reports of an aircraft in difficulty near to Junction 61.

Inspector Chris Headley, of Durham Constabulary, said: "The air ambulance did land near to the site, however the male pilot escaped the emergency landing with minor cuts, despite the aircraft breaking up on landing.”

Robin Turnbull, a group manager at Durham Fire and Rescue, said appliances, including the special rescue unit, were sent from Durham and Bishop Auckland. Two senior officers were also on scene.

He said: “The flight had originated from Fishburn Airfield and the pilot was going back there “The engine has cut out during the flight and the pilot has found a suitable area to bring the aircraft down."

Mr Turnbull said the pilot had managed to avoid both residential areas and main roads in choosing his landing spot.

He added: “It must have been a very anxious and stressful time for the man.”

A spokeswoman for the Air Accident Investigation Branch said: “I can confirm that the AAIB is aware and will be investigating by correspondence.”