Nigel Farage, Ukip's highest-profile election candidate, had a miraculous escape yesterday after his aircraft crashed following a last-minute election stunt.
The party's former leader admitted he was "lucky to be alive" after he was pulled bloodied and semi-conscious from the wreckage of a light aircraft that crash-landed in a Northamptonshire airfield.
He was later found to have chipped his spine and damaged his ribs and sternum. The aircraft hit trouble when the election banner it was towing, asking voters to "Vote for your country – vote Ukip", became entangled in its tail fin.
Mr Farage had been in bright spirits before the aircraft took off, joking with photographers ahead of his final act of electioneering.
He had been hoping to pick up some extra votes in his bid to unseat the former Commons Speaker John Bercow in the Tory stronghold of Buckingham. However, as the plane took off at around 8am yesterday, the banner seemed to get caught up in the aircraft's tail. It crash-landed in Hinton-in-the-Hedges airfield moments later. Mr Farage was found bent double underneath the plane, still strapped in to his seat. He was pulled out with his Ukip rosette unscathed. The pilot had to be cut from the wreckage and was airlifted to Walsgrave Hospital in Coventry.
The plane had already made one successful trip from Winchester before taking off again from Hinton, where the accident happened. Mr Farage had planned to take to the skies over Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire during the morning.
He was taken to Horton General Hospital in Banbury, Oxfordshire. He was later transferred to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, where he was due to stay overnight. It means he will be unable to attend his own election count. Mr Bercow, his main election rival, was one of the first to offer sympathy to Mr Farage.
"I was concerned to learn of this morning's crash," he said. "I wish Nigel Farage and his pilot a full and speedy recovery." His wife, Sally, also made her concern clear. "Shocked at news that Ukip's Nigel Farage has been involved in plane crash," she said on the social networking site Twitter. "But glad he appears to be OK."
Chris Adams, Mr Farage's campaign manager, was clearly upset as he visited the wreckage of the Polish fixed-wing aircraft yesterday. "Apparently the plane nosedived," he said. "The pilot had sent out a May Day signal and it basically crash-dived. It's all a bit of a shock, especially on polling day." Mr Farage drifted in and out of consciousness as he was freed from the plane, which had flipped on to its roof on impact.
Lord Pearson, Ukip's leader, said Mr Farage had been visited by his wife in hospital. "Despite being in considerable pain, we deduce that Nigel is back to something like his normal form," he said. "He told Ukip's Banbury candidate, Dr Sebastian Fairweather, who gained access to him in hospital, to 'stop worrying about me, get back out there and get out the vote'.
"We also understand that the injuries to the pilot, Justin Adams, may be less serious than previously feared, though we have been unable to speak to his family. It is clear that both men had a remarkably lucky escape," he added.