A motorist is fighting for their life after crashing into a tree on a South Canterbury highway last night.

The driver was cut free from the mangled wreckage by firefighters before being flown by rescue helicopter to Christchurch Hospital.

The person was in a critical condition and was put in the intensive care unit.

Emergency services were called to the car crash on Arundel Rakaia Gorge Rd about 5km south of Mayfield at 9.39pm.

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Fire and Emergency southern communications shift manager Andrew Norris said one fire engine from Mayfield and two from Ashburton were at the crash site for about two hours.

"The driver had crashed into a tree. When the crews got there one occupant was trapped in the car."

St John Ambulance crew treated the badly-injured driver, before firefighters freed them from the car using the jaws of life.