Page last updated at 17:58 GMT, Monday, 8 September 2008 18:58 UK

Girl in drain 'stopped breathing'

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Mark Baxter jumped in the river to save his daughter

The father of a little girl sucked 150ft (46m) along an underground drain has told how she had stopped breathing when he pulled her from the River Wear.

Leona Baxter, three, was playing in a puddle when she disappeared. She had been washed into the uncovered drain and was thrown out into the river.

Her father Mark, 34, of Leeming, North Yorkshire, jumped into the water and pulled her to safety.

Police officers said the child "miraculously" avoided serious injury.

Leona's mother Beverley, 32, performed first aid on the youngster who also suffered a cut to her head.

'Coughing and spluttering'

Mr Baxter said when his daughter disappeared from view he realised she had fallen down a storm drain and that if it was going to go anywhere it would go to the river.

"I ran across the river and I saw what I thought was Leona's coat and I realised it was Leona floating face down in the river," he said.

"So I jumped over the side, jumped in, grabbed her and the water went up to my shoulder.

"I put her over my shoulder and patted her back because she wasn't breathing.

Leona, Beverley, Mark and Kiah Baxter
Leona is recovering in hospital after her ordeal

"I couldn't move holding Leona as my wellies had filled with water, so I stayed balanced and handed her to Bev who was on a bank.

"As soon as Leona was coughing and spluttering and being sick, I felt much happier because she was breathing then."

Police said Leona travelled about 150ft underground before being swept into the River Wear, near Durham Cricket ground, on Sunday evening.

Leona was playing with her sister Kiah, six, and the family pet dog Brophy in a puddle at a playground in Riverside Park, Chester-le-Street, when the accident happened.

It is believed the storm drain cover, which had been under about 8in (20cm) of water, was pushed off by a sudden release of water pressure.

Certain death

The dog, which was also sucked into the drain, is still missing.

Sgt Keith Wardle, of Durham Police, said: "Fortunately when the girl and her dog disappeared her dad quickly realised what was happening.

"He ran to the river bank and plucked her from the swollen river."

A police spokeswoman said the girl's father had saved her from "almost certain death".

Alistair Baker, spokesman for Northumbrian Water, said: "This was obviously a horrendous ordeal for such a little girl.

"A tragedy was averted thanks to the heroics of her father."




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