A couple had a miraculous escape from their car just before it was swept away by a flood-swollen river in west Cumbria.

Fire crews were called out to rescue a couple after a report that their car - a Ford Fiesta - had been overwhelmed by the River Keekle near Cleator Moor as the driver was attempting to drive through a ford on Wednesday afternoon.

The force of the water was such that the car and its occupants – a 20-year-old man and an 18-year-old woman – were swept more than half a mile downstream.

It happened at Mill Hill just before 6pm as the couple were driving through the ford, which was three or four feet deep and fast flowing.

Julie O'Leary witnessed the car being carried away.

"My husband and I were out walking and we saw the car had entered the Keekle ford, then it got swept down the river," she said.

"I phoned the police and my husband and another lady ran down the river bank to see if they could help. The couple in the car managed to get out themselves and the car then disappeared under water, which was very fast moving."

Two specialist water rescue crews, two fire crews from Whitehaven, one from Workington, as well as Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team were mobilised.

"Fortunately, as we arrived at the scene, we were told the two people involved had self-rescued," said Cumbria Fire and Rescue Service station manager Adrian Holme.

"They were ridiculously lucky. I think the police picked them up.

"I took a photo of the river - and you would not have gone in anywhere near it. It was fast-flowing - strong enough to sweep that car away. We found the car about a kilometer downstream. The potential for loss of life was immense.

"It must have been an horrendous experience.

"Working near to fast flowing flood water is inherently dangerous. We do everything we can to minimise the risk to our crews but for somebody to knowingly take those risks, putting themselves and our crews in potential danger is foolhardy."

Dave Farrell, who lives near the ford, spoke to a man who witnessed the incident.

"He said the car was picked up by the current and carried off like it was a toy boat," he said.

"There was a lot of police cars parked up and people running around when I came home from work.

"The car had been swept three fields down the river and had then actually sunk.

"I've lived here a couple of years and there has been floods, but nothing on that scale. They were very lucky, it could have been much worse."

The couple were taken to the West Cumberland Hospital to be checked over before being discharged.