A man who tried to save three men trapped in a submerged 4×4 vehicle said they were “swept away” as they attempted to cross a river.

Emergency services including police, ambulance and a helicopter attended a location on the River Esk near Glaisdale shortly before midday on Thursday.

A 4×4 was recovered from the river by the fire service just after 3pm and three men found inside had died, North Yorkshire Police said.

Chris Ford, who lives nearby, told the PA news agency the men were part of an off-roading group when they crossed a ford on Rake Lane.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The 4x4 in the River Esk at Glaisdale where three men died after the vehicle was swept away

The river, swollen by heavy rain, swept them away and carried them around 400 yards downstream, he said.

It came as Storm Gerrit caused flooding and travel chaos across the country throughout Wednesday and Thursday.

Mr Ford, a firewood salesman, was called to the scene to help recover the vehicle with his tractor and found it fully submerged beneath the water, he said.

He and two others used tractors to pull the 4×4 on to the riverbank, he said.

Read more: Images show aftermath of 4x4 incident that left three dead

Police said another man, who attempted to help those trapped in the car, was pulled from the river and needed medical treatment.

Mr Ford told PA: “There was a ford they were going over and they were swept down 400 yards.

“They were part of an off-road club.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The 4x4 in the River Esk at Glaisdale where three men died after the vehicle was swept away

“I went down with my tractor. There were a couple of vehicles – one parked up.

“You couldn’t see the (other) vehicle. It was 3ft beneath the water.

“I helped get it out on to the riverbank with three other tractors.”

Two other locals, Rosie and Andrew Dale, said they were with Mr Ford when he got the call to help.

They said they saw several 4×4 vehicles pass their home in the direction of the ford shortly before the incident.

Mrs Dale said “nobody local” would attempt to cross the ford in the current conditions.

The area is popular with 4×4 drivers, she said, adding: “In the summer you get 10 of them at a time.”

A spokesperson for North Yorkshire Police said: “Localised conditions across our area are making driving hazardous.

“Roads are particularly badly affected around the River Esk, to the north of the county, as we have seen with the tragic incident near Glaisdale.

“There was another incident at nearby Houlsyke at 12.49pm when a car got stuck in flood water and another at Kirby Wiske in Hambleton at 2.35pm.

“Thankfully, the occupants of both vehicles were brought to safety.

“The key advice is to consider whether your journey is necessary.

“Please avoid driving through any kind of standing or moving flood water if you possibly can.”

Witnesses to the incident at Glaisdale are urged to call North Yorkshire Police on 101, option 4, quoting reference NYP-28122023-0146.