TWO key members of the Great North Air Ambulance service escaped death yesterday when their microlight aircraft crashed into woodland.

Paramedic Jon Ker, who is based with the service's Teesside Air Support Unit, and Jim Martin, a chief pilot with the Cumbria Air Support Unit, were seriously hurt when their leisure aircraft crashed near a busy North-East golf course.

The crash comes two years after the two men suffered serious injuries while on a climbing holiday on Ben Nevis, in Scotland, Britain's highest mountain.

That accident claimed the life of their colleague, Dr Rupert Bennett.

In yesterday's incident, their fall was broken by trees - which probably saved their lives, according to experts.

The two men were making their way to Eshott Airfield, between Morpeth and Alnwick, in Northumberland, when their Banbi Microlight crashed at the nearby Burgham Park Golf Course and Leisure Club, at 12.10pm, after developing mechanical problems.

Witnesses on the golf course said the craft stalled before plunging to the ground. Both men were freed and airlifted to Newcastle General Hospital, suffering suspected broken limbs and cuts and bruises.

Eshott Airfield chief flying instructor Steve Clarehugh, who knows both men, said: "It was miraculous they came down where they did. They landed in trees, which broke their fall.

"Had they come straight down they wouldn't have stood a chance.

"We could get Jon out easily, but we didn't let him move until the paramedics arrived.

"These two men were seriously hurt in a climbing accident. It is ironic that they should be involved in another accident together."

The golf course's professional, David Mather, said: "Those who saw what happened said it stalled a couple of times and regained itself before something appeared to come off the tails, and it spiralled out of control."

Mr Clarehugh said the men had taken off from Longframlington, six miles away, and intended visiting Eshott Airfield.

He said: "They radioed ahead to say they were approaching and that was the last we heard from them.

"There was no indication anything was wrong.

"I had just landed myself when I got a call from the golf club saying their microlight had crashed."

Mr Clarehugh immediately flew to the golf club, landed on a fairway, and rushed to the scene, where he found both men conscious but in pain.

He said: "I stabilised the craft, which had dropped through the trees, breaking the branches as it fell."

Northumberland Fire and Rescue Service crew manager Tom Naples said: "On arrival, we found one microlight-type aircraft in a wooded area, about 500m from the golf course.

"It appeared to have developed mechanical problems of some sort and just dropped straight into the woods.

"There were still two men in the wreckage. They both suffered serious leg injuries and cuts and bruises, and were in shock. The craft landed nose first into the ground, and was tipped forward with its tail in the air.

"One of the men was trapped, and we had to cut wreckage - including metal work and cables - from around him."

Paramedics from the North-East Ambulance Service administered first aid.

Following a rescue operation lasting about 45 minutes, the men were airlifted to Newcastle General Hospital.

One was taken in the Great North Air Ambulance, while the other was transported by a police helicopter.

It is not clear which of the two men had been piloting microlight at the time.

Mr Ker, in his thirties, who lives with his partner in Rothbury, Northumberland, became involved with the air ambulance at Teesside when it was set up as a one-month trial, and has been there ever since.

On the air ambulance website, he states: "In my spare time I like to fly my own microlight aircraft, so flying for a living is the ideal job for me.

"When I am not flying, I can be found working my jack russell terriers or propping up a bar, planning trips abroad in my microlight."

In his website entry, Mr Martin, who is in his late forties and holds aeroplane and commercial licences, says he is a guest member of the Northumbria Police motorcycle team, while he also spends his time off climbing in the Lake District and Scotland.

Mr Martin joined the RAF and flew Lightning fighters and Chinook helicopters in the UK, the Falklands and Germany. He also served as chief pilot for the police helicopter at Newcastle from 1995 until he joined the air ambulance in 2003.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch will attend the scene.

A pilot died yesterday when a light aircraft crashed. The man died when the plane went down in the Scottish Borders, at about 4pm.

It crashed three miles east of Selkirk. It is believed the male pilot was the only person on board the plane when it went down.