A MOTORIST is recovering in hospital after his pick-up truck swerved off a busy dual carriageway into a flooded beck and disappeared under murky water.

Passing drivers watched in horror as the Vauxhall van and trailer left the northbound carriageway of the A19, prior to the A66 Slip-road at the back of Teesside Retail Park, Stockton, and plunged into a tributary of the River Tees.

Among those who witnessed the incident was off-duty North Yorkshire police officer Neil Bennett, who jumped into the water and grabbed the 55-year-old driver, from Billingham, who had floated from the wreckage to the surface.

PC Bennett had been heading to Middlesbrough to go shopping when he saw vehicles pulling up on the carriageway just before 5pm on Monday.

He said: "People had pulled up and were looking in the water as I walked up, but I couldn't see anything. They said a van had gone in and that the driver was still inside.

"As I was there the man floated to the surface, face up. He had a big gash in his head and was semi-conscious."

People at the scene got a ladder from a vehicle that had stopped and placed it across the beck.

PC Bennett used it to get to the far bank, before jumping in the water and holding the man steady.

Another rescuer held on to PC Bennett until PC Justin Moffitt, from Cleveland Police, arrived and was able to pull them clear before diving into the water to search the sunken vehicle, concerned that another person may have been trapped.

PC Moffitt said: "The water was eight or nine feet deep, freezing cold and very murky. The pick-up was completely submerged - you couldn't see anything.

"I was just a case of getting into the cab and feeling around with your feet. Fortunately, no one else was in."

The victim, who was not named, was taken to Middlesbrough General Hospital suffering from a depressed fracture of the skull. Last night, his condition was described as critical but stable.

Officers would like to speak to the driver of a black and yellow taxi which was spotted driving on to the A19 north-bound, from the Mandale interchange, Thornaby, at the time of the collision.

Anyone with information is asked to contact police on (01642) 301558