A man arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after a car carrying two young children plunged into a river, has been named locally as Christopher Grady.

The pair, a five-year-old girl and her six-year-old brother, named locally as Ryan and Gabrielle Grady, were airlifted to Birmingham Children’s Hospital after the vehicle plunged into the River Avon in Evesham on Thursday. They remained in a critical condition today.

A man, unofficially identified as their father, was said to have emerged from the vehicle with the boy. But the girl was trapped inside the submerged Vauxhall for around two hours before being freed by police divers.

Paramedics said she may have survived because the freezing temperature caused her body to slow down or by breathing from a trapped pocket of air.

A man was later arrested on suspicion of attempted murder. West Mercia Police would not confirm whether the driver was the father of the two children.

But residents in Evesham claimed they had been told the incident was linked to a family row. A resident, who would not be named, said: “Police think he had a row with his partner, put his two kids in the car and drove off at speed.”

Mr Grady was said to be a blacksmith at the Railway Forge in Evesham, making gates and railings for a living. Until two weeks ago he was said to have been living above a hairdressers in the town but had recently moved out.

Landlord Robert Scrivens, 51, confirmed the identity of the family. He said Mr Grady was a regular at his pub most weekends with his two children.

Mr Scrivens said: “I’m absolutely shocked, Gabby and Ryan are lovely kids.

“Chris used to come down here about three times a week and again at weekends with the kids.”

Police were last night continuing to quiz the suspect and were expected to resume attempts to drag the car from the 100ft-wide stretch of the river off Boat Lane today.

Supt Garry Higgins said: “This was a traumatic incident and our officers have been left shaken.”

Witnesses told how bystanders waved frantically at the driver as the car approached the water.

Martin Waites, 56, said the motorist sped across a field before the car hit the water. He said: "I could hear a screech of brakes and then saw the car driving fast through a field.

"I could see dirt flying and the car fishtailing all over the place. The driver looked like a wild man. My first thought was, 'Oh my God, he is trying to kill himself'.

"The car hit the water with an almighty bang and floated for a few seconds. Then I saw two children in the back seat screaming and banging on the window trying to get out."

Student Adam Vaughan, aged 18, said: “A bloke who saw it all said he saw a car come down Boat Lane.

“When the car went in to the water, the man came out the boot with the boy but the girl went down with the car.”

The nightmare unfolded at 9.20am on Thursday close to Sankey Marina.

Paramedics said the man and the boy were free from the car by the time emergency services arrived.

The man was taken to Alexandra Hospital in Redditch but was not seriously injured.

The girl was taken onto the bank by divers two hours later after failed attempts to pull the car from the river.

She was flown to Birmingham Children’s Hospital by the Midlands Air Ambulance after resuscitation attempts were started following her rescue from the water.