TOP Gear presenter Richard Hammond was critically injured tonight after crashing a jet powered car at 280mph at Elvington Airfield near York.

The 36-year-old, who often drives high-performance cars as part of presenting the show, was rushed to hospital in Leeds.

He was behind the wheel of a Vampire jet car, which can accelerate from 0 to 272mph in six seconds.It is understood that he was on the last run of the day when the accident happened at 5.45pm.Eyewitness Dave Ogden said: "I don't know quite what happened but the parachute deployed. There was quite a lot of smoke and the car veered off to the right onto the grass."It overturned several times and came to a halt just a couple of hundred yards in front of us."

The Yorkshire Air Ambulance was scrambled and he was treated at the scene by the crew before being airlifted to Leeds General Infirmary, which has a specialist neurological unit.

A hospital spokesman said that Hammond, who was brought up in North Yorkshire, was in intensive care. His condition, earlier said to be "critical" was later described as "stable".

A North Yorkshire Police spokesman said that the presenter was filming an episode of Top Gear at the former RAF base at the time.

He added: ''Relatives have been informed and are en route to the hospital itself.'' ''The male occupant has received serious injuries and has been airlifted to hospital at Leeds.'' He also presents Brainiac: Science Abuse on Sky, the BBC 1 show Should I Worry About...? and Time Commanders on BBC 2.

In July 2005, Hammond won the accolade of being voted number one in heat magazine poll of the top "weird celebrity crushes." Also in 2005, he was voted one of the top British TV talents.

He lives near Cheltenham with his wife Amanda and two young children.