U-FLIP; THE NATION DECIDES ELECTION 2010.
FORMER right-wing party leader Nigel Farage escaped with his life yesterday as an election plane stunt almost ended in disaster.
The outspoken Euro-MP and ex-leader of the UK Independence Party crawled from the wreckage of a light plane after an election banner wrapped around its tail and brought it crashing to the ground.
Farage, 46, who is standing for UKIP in Commons Speaker John Bercow's Buckingham constituency, was bloodied and dazed as he was pulled free from the crushed cockpit.
He suffered head injuries and was taken from an airfield near the crash site in Northamptonshire to hospital.
He is expected to remain in the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford for several days.
The pilot of the plane, Justin Adams, 45, was cut from the wreckage and taken for treatment at a trauma unit in Coventry.
He is believed to have suffered serious leg and back injuries.
In a statement from his hospital bed last night, Farage said: "We've both had a miraculous escape. We are both very lucky to be alive."
His PR man Duncan Barkes, who was first on the scene of the crash, added: "He is not going anywhere today. There is no way he will be at the count tomorrow.
"He's got two broken ribs, a small chip to his spine and damage to his sternum."
Neil Hall, who was photographing the stunt, was with Barkes as he raced to the scene.
And Hall said he feared both men had been killed in the crash.
He said: "His plane was about 10 metres off the ground when the banner became tangled in the rear tail rudder, and it nosedived quickly into the ground.
"One minute it was in the air, the next it was a cloud of dust. It simply nosedived without any warning.
"It looked like the front of the plane had completely flattened. I could see Nigel's leg sticking out and feared he was dead. Then I heard him moaning, saying, 'Get me out, get me out'.
"Blood was pouring from his mouth. He was dazed and confused. One minute he was thinking about his campaign or something and the next minute he was trapped in a crashed plane. I'm surprised he did not break his neck."
The plane, which Farage had used for publicity flights before, had been due to tow the banner, bearing the words: "Vote for your country: vote UKIP" over a number of constitutencies in the south of England yesterday.
Party leader Lord Pearson said last night that Farage had been visited by his German wife Kirsten in hospital.
He said: "Despite being in considerable pain, we deduce that Nigel is back to something like his normal form.
"He told UKIP's Banbury candidate Dr Sebastian Fairweather, who saw him in hospital, to 'stop worrying about me, get back out there and get out the vote'.
"We also understand the injuries to the pilot may be less serious than feared, though we have been unable to speak to his family.
"It is clear that both men had a remarkably lucky escape."
When asked how the incident might affect the party's campaign, a UKIP spokesman said: "The main thing today is the survival of two men. It's not about political points."
Detective Chief Inspector Martin Kinchin, of Northamptonshire Police, surveying the mangled metal, said: "Looking at the wreckage behind me, I think you can make your own judgment as to how lucky they were. The people inside the plane were lucky to come out with not very serious injuries."
The plane had been preparing to land in overcast conditions when it crashed, officers believe.
Farage's campaign manager was visibly shaken as he visited the crash site and described how the pilot desperately tried to call for help in the seconds before impact.
Chris Adams said: "Apparently, the plane nosedived. We had a banner attached to the back of the plane which basically got wrapped around the tail.
"The pilot had sent out a mayday signal and it basically crash dived. It's all a bit of a shock, especially on polling day."
After watching the plane being tipped over by a JCB digger to aid its recovery from the field, Adams added: "I'm absolutely shocked and stunned to see how anyone got out of that alive."
Farage's constituency rival Bercow said: "I was concerned to learn of this morning's crash. I wish Nigel Farage and his pilot a full and speedy recovery."
Farage hit the headlines in February when he publicly insulted new EU president Herman Van Rompuy, along with his entire country.
He told the Belgian he had "all the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk" and dismissed Belgium as "a noncountry".
HIGH-FLIER: Farage grins broadly on take-off. The plane trails the UKIP banner across the sky then goes crashing down into the field below AGONY: Farage grimaces in pain as he walks from the crash. He will spend days in hospital AFTERMATH: Suited Farage lies upside down trapped in the wreckage of the plane, where the pilot's bare feet can be seen. Above right, Farage's PR man arrives on the scene RESCUE: A man helps Farage to free himself from the plane wreck