SIX motorists had to be airlifted to safety last night after their cars became stuck in drifting snow.

Mountain rescue teams and an RAF helicopter were called to the road between Middleton-in-Teesdale, County Durham, and Brough, Cumbria, at 6pm.

The six stranded people were airlifted to Middleton-in- Teesdale and Kirkby Stephen.

Steve Owers, spokesman for Teesdale and Weardale Search and Mountain Rescue Team, said the motorists had been trapped after high winds blew snow off fields.

“It was drifting right across the roads,” he said. “People drive through it thinking they can get through because we’ve had no more snow, but it’s actually very deep.

“In this case the easiest way to get these six people out was by helicopter.”

He urged drivers to take extra care when travelling on exposed rural roads.

He said: “In County Durham, we have got some of the highest roads in England and it might look great down in the valleys, but those high roads going from Teesdale to Weardale, and Teesdale to Cumbria can become impassable very quickly.”

Earlier in the evening, about 50 motorists were stranded on the A66 after an eight-car pile up between the A685 and the A67 at Stainmore near the County Durham-Cumbria border.

A police spokesman said: “It is not believed that there are any casualties at this stage.”

Durham Police closed snow gates, halting traffic between Cumbria and County Durham.

Stranded motorist Dorothy Watson, 59, from Penrith, said: “It’s been snowy, but the problem today was the wind.

The wind was really strong and it was blowing the snow off the hillsides. There are so many flashing lights around us from the emergency services, and it’s so cold everyone is staying in their cars rather than getting out.”

Hazardous driving conditions are expected to continue across the region today after the Met Office issued a flash warning of severe extreme weather because of falling temperatures combined with wintry showers.

A statement on the Met Office website said last night: “As temperatures fall, widespread ice will form on untreated roads and pavements.

“These icy conditions will last well into Thursday. The public are advised to take extra care.”

Snow showers are expected to affect the region, particularly along the coast and hills, tonight.