DRAMATIC details have emerged of a head-on collision which saw two drivers escape just minutes before their cars erupted into a scorching inferno last night.

The incident on the A68, near its junction with the A1(M) at Darlington, saw both drivers - a 32-year-old man driving a grey Renault Clio and a 60-year-old man driving a green Citroen C3 - being pulled from their cars before they caught alight.

Both men were taken to Darlington Memorial Hospital. The 32-year-old, from Shildon, is suffering a fractured spine, while the 60-year-old from Toft Hill, in Bishop Auckland, suffered fractures to his breast bone, spine and elbow.

Police say the collision occurred after the driver of the Clio lost control on a left hand bend near to caravan shop Discovery, formerly Burtree Caravans, head across the grassed central reservation onto the opposite carraigeway and collide head-on with the Citroen.

Passing motorists risked their lives to pull the victims clear of their cars before they were engulfed in flames.

David Glendenning, watch manager at Darlington Fire and Rescue, said had the men not been helped they would surely have died.

“By the time we got there, the cars were so far gone because of the fire that if someone had still been inside they would have had no chance.”

Fire crews helped the ambulance paramedics treat one of the victims. He was placed on a spinal board and given oxygen before the arrival of a second ambulance.

Mr Glendenning said, as dramatic as it was, the scene that greeted the firefighters could have been a lot worse.

“The way the cars ended up on the verge of dual carriageway, if they had been another 3ft to the left they would have been at the bottom of a 6ft drop-off, wedged against the hedge,” he said.

“If they had been there, it would have been very doubtful whether anyone would have been able to get them out of the car. I am pretty certain they would have both ended up as fatalities.”

Mr Glendenning said it was unusual, but not unknown, for two cars to erupt in flames in a collision.

“It can happen – it depends what ruptures,” he said.

“If the fuel line ruptures and there is an ignition source somewhere, that will happen.

It is rare – you don’t come across it that often – but obviously it is feasible.”

Scott Thornberry, from Darlington, was close to the scene when the accident occurred and said he had heard there were one or more rescuers.

“This is the type of thing you see on a police programme, you don’t expect to see it yourself,” he said.

“But it shows you that when these things do happen, there are people around who just jump up and say, ‘Right, let’s get him out’. You would hope if you were confronted with it, you would do the same thing.

“Whoever they were they need to be praised.”

Another motorist, who asked not to be named, said: “I saw a car on fire and the old chap with two guys, one either side of him, and carrying him along. I didn’t see how they got him out of the car.

The old man looked how a really drunk guy would, being dragged along. He was shaking.

Between him getting out of the car and then walking 20 to 30 metres, the car must have gone up.

“They put him next to one of the parked cars and then the ambulance turned up. He couldn’t stand up, so I don’t think he got out the car himself.”

• Were you one of the drivers or did you help with the rescue? Call the newsdesk on 01325-505065