TWO women were killed and a three-year-old girl seriously injured when a freak gust of wind blew an inflatable sculpture 30ft into the air.

The girl was among 12 people injured at Riverside Park, in Chester-le-Street, County Durham, when a day of fun turned to tragedy on Sunday.

Panic set in when the gust caused the Dreamscape public art attraction, which was on its tenth anniversary tour, to slip its moorings and rise up vertically into the air.

About 30 people were inside the sculpture at the time.

A 68-year-old woman from Seaham, County Durham, and a 38-year-old Chester-le-Street woman, who are believed to have been on the inflatable with children, were taken to the University Hospital of North Durham, in Durham, but died from their injuries. Their identities have not been released.

Darren Springhall, 31, from Hetton-le-Hole, Wearside, helped to pull people clear from the Dreamscape when it landed.

He said: "I saw somebody fall maybe 20ft to the ground.

"I have no idea how many people were in it, but parents were screaming that their children were caught inside."

Eighteen-year-old Travis Dickinson, from Edmondsley, near Chester-le-Street, was driving towards the park when he saw the Dreamscape lift-off. He said: "I saw it floating through the air and bodies were falling from it."

A woman whose 23-year-old daughter was injured, returned to the scene shortly after the accident.

She said her daughter was in intensive care having suffered a punctured lung, broken ribs, and internal bleeding.

She said: "It was just a day out enjoying the weather, and it's gone so badly wrong."

The huge inflatable was airborne for at least 20 seconds. Initially some people thought the take-off was intended.

One man inside the sculpture said: "My wife was coming towards me and was laughing and thinking this is all part of it - that's when I hit the floor and thought this isn't right."

The art work travelled up to 50 yards across the park and several people were thrown from it before it struck a security camera post.

When it came to ground, worried parents scrambled to search for their children.

The three-year-old girl, from Langley Park, County Durham, suffered serious crush injuries and was flown by air ambulance to Newcastle General Hospital.

Eleven other people were treated for injury, both children and adults.

A North-East Ambulance spokes-man said three children, aged eight to 11, were taken to Gatesheads Queen Elizabeth Hospital suffering neck, leg and arm injuries.

An 11-year-old girl who was taken to the University Hospital of North Durham, was said to be, lapsing in and out of consciousness, suffering severe shock.

A 13-year-old girl was taken to South Tyneside General Hospital suffering minor injuries.

Two air ambulances and the police helicopter were called to the scene after the alert was raised at 3.34pm.

A fleet of six other ambulances, two rapid response paramedic vehicles, four patient transport vehicles and five fire crews also attended.

The park was cordoned off once it was confirmed that everyone was clear of Dreamscape and inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) later arrived to begin an investigation.

The Dreamscape, created by international artist Maurice Agis, was only opened by Chester-le-Street District Council leader Linda Ebbatson, in the park on Saturday.

The £5 attraction was due to remain open to the public daily until next Sunday, one of only three stops in England.

Described as an inflatable work of art, it is up to 5m tall, and about half the size of a football field.

Tony Galloway, director of development services at Chester-le-Street District Council, said: "An investigation will try to find out why the structure broke free from its moorings.

"Our sympathies go to all the families affected by this."

Police have appealed for anyone with film footage of the incident to come forward. They also want to speak to witnesses to establish the circumstances. They are asked to call 0845 60 60 365.

Were you there? Contact the Northern Echo Newsdesk on (01325) 505068 or email with your stories or videos.