30th November 1997


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My wife died to save a dog

From the first dance they shared, Ron Norman knew he was in love with his future wife Janet. But it was a relationship that would tragically end 26 years later - when Ron watched his 51-year-old wife plunge into an icy river trying to rescue a dog. The heartbroken widower will never forget the look on his wife's face as she slipped through ice on the River Thames.

Here Ron, 53 and a railway signal man from Reading, tells his story. We'd spent that Friday morning last January doing jobs around the house and had a late breakfast before we set off in the afternoon to take Ben, our friend's terrier, for a walk. We were looking after him while our friend was in hospital.

It took us half an hour to walk down to the Thames and it was already getting dark. Suddenly Ben ran out on to the ice chasing after a swan, then he went down on his belly and slid into the water. We called to him but he couldn't get out. He was just staring at us. I searched for a stick to try to reach him but couldn't find anything.

When I looked around, Janet was on the ice. I shouted to her not to go but she didn't even turn around. I saw the ice crack behind her and she just went in. I started shouting for help.

The second time I shouted she joined in. She was screaming, 'Help me.' Those were her last words.

A scaffolder across the river heard me and started paddling a leaking dinghy to where Janet was. He was smashing the ice to try to find her. Janet wasn't a strong swimmer so I started out on to the ice to rescue her. Then I fell in. The water was so cold it stung.

When I came up she had vanished. All that was left was her red scarf floating on the water. There were no bubbles, nothing.

I couldn't get out myself and was clinging on to the side of the ice. Then a second man in a dinghy came on to the water and the two of them helped Ben and me to safety. I owe my life to them but there was no sign of Janet.

I was taken to the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading and was treated for shock while divers searched for my wife. Finally they found Janet's lifeless body and rushed her to hospital. They said they were trying to revive her but I knew she'd been in the water for some time. Finally I was told they'd lost her and was taken to see her.

What I will never forget is the look on her face before she went under the water. For nights after, when my head hit the pillow the horrific image came back to haunt me.

Eventually I was prescribed sleeping pills. They helped but I had to get up straightway when I woke to occupy my mind with other things.

Janet was a one-in-a-million girl and we were made for each other. We were married for 13 years and the house seems so empty now. She was so lively and busy. I just try to carry on as best as I can.

Ben the dog, who was unharmed, is back with his owner. When I saw the man after Janet died he said, 'Ron, what can I say?' I said, 'Don't say anything,' and we haven't really spoken about it since. We're still friends though.

Why people go after their dogs on the ice I will never understand. The majority of the time the dog survives.

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