THE grandfather of two children critically injured in a head-on crash paid tribute last night to the emergency services which saved their lives.

Ten-year-old Jack Handyside and his eight-year-old sister, Sophie, suffered severe head injuries and were airlifted to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle on Saturday.

Last night, police said that Sophie was improving slowly while Jack was off the critical list and was “stable”.

Both were in a critical condition after the accident at Staindrop, near Barnard Castle, County Durham.

Their father, Darren, 45, who suffered abdominal injuries, was taken to The James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough, where his condition is also improving.

The children’s grandfather, Tim Elstob, said the family, from Butterknowle, near Staindrop, had received many messages of support from friends and the local community.

“The children are still very, very ill and they have got a long road ahead of them,” he said. “I really want to thank the services for what they did.

All the emergency services and the air ambulance staff are worth their weight in gold.

“The hospital staff have been brilliant. You hear a lot about the NHS, but they have done marvellous.”

Jack and Sophie, who attend Butterknowle Primary School, have an older sister Lucy, 14, who attends Staindrop School.

Lucy was staying with her grandparents in South Side, near Butterknowle, on Friday.

Customers at a roadside canteen heard the impact.

One of them knew the family and alerted Mr Elstob, who picked up his midwife daughter, Julie, and broke the news.

“When we got to the scene, they would not let us near and I did not know what to think,”

he said.

Ms Elstob is staying with Jack and Sophie at the RVI.

The family’s silver Rover collided with a black Vauxhall Corsa on the A688, near the Burnt Houses Lane junction.

The Corsa driver, a 78-yearold woman, from the Sunderland area, was taken to Darlington Memorial Hospital with spinal injuries.

Jack and his father were freed from the wreckage by firefighters, while Sophie was released by paramedics.

Both children were anaesthetised by a Great North Air Ambulance Service doctor, one of three air ambulances which attended the scene.

“We sent one aircraft from Durham Tees Valley Airport to the scene, but upon arrival, the onboard doctor immediately recognised the need for further expertise,” a GNAAS spokesman said.

“He requested the assistance of our second aircraft, based near Penrith. Both children were airlifted after being anaesthetised at the scene, a measure which was only possible because the charity carries specialist trauma doctors.

“The treatment was vital in this case. Anaesthetising a patient with severe head injuries allows for advanced treatment to begin immediately, rather than waiting until arrival at hospital.”

Witnesses to the accident are asked to call PC Andy Wilson on 101, or the collision investigation unit on 0191-375-2159.