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Hero rescuer plucks New Year's Eve reveller from icy River Wensum

PUBLISHED: 17:00 05 January 2010 | UPDATED: 07:13 02 July 2010

Geoff Burvill looking out over the Wensum from his flat

Geoff Burvill looking out over the Wensum from his flat

Sarah Brealey

A former pilot shrugged off Parkinson's disease and ignored icy conditions to pluck a young woman reveller out the River Wensum in the heart of Norwich the early hours of New Year's Day.

A former pilot shrugged off Parkinson's disease and ignored icy conditions to pluck a young woman reveller out the River Wensum in the heart of Norwich the early hours of New Year's Day.

Captain Geoff Burvill saved the life of the 20-year-old, who was slipping into the murky waters after losing her bearings during a night at The Waterfront on King Street.

The 66-year-old, from New Half Moon Yard, King Street, raced to the rescue after seeing the “hysterical” woman going down the track beside the music venue and heading towards the river.

He was on his way home at 1am after seeing in the New Year at the Queen of Iceni pub on Riverside with his partner, Geraldine Joslin.

Mr Burvill, who was honoured by the Royal Humane Society in 1966 for rescuing a six-year-old boy from the water at Dundee Docks, said: “In her condition, with the river as cold as it was, she would have died within a few minutes if I hadn't pulled her out.”

The former Army Air Corps pilot said: “I had a white suit and my pilot's hat on to see in the New Year. We were walking home and the road was a sheet of ice. Taxis were sliding all over the place.

“As we walked past the Waterfront, a girl came out screaming and shouting. She was hysterical. She made for the small cobbled track beside the venue.

“It was very icy and very slippery. I told Geraldine I had to go down there after her. I was walking as quickly as I could on the icy cobbles.”

Mr Burvill added: “I was 40m behind her and she turned left near the river. She was confused and I lost her for a few seconds. It was very dangerous. There were lots of planks of wood that were covered in ice.

“I shouted for her and heard that she was in a bit of a panic. Suddenly I spotted her. She was slipping into the water. I slipped as well as I tried to reach her.”

Mr Burvill, who hails from North Berwick in Scotland, held onto a rope and held out his other hand to the girl, who he later found out was called Sarah.

“He said: “She was floundering in the cold water, which was no more than 5C. She was going under and had no way of pulling herself out.

“I shouted 'hold on' and she was in up to her shoulders. My right leg slipped into the water and I can tell you it was very cold indeed. I held her hand and tried to pull her out.

“It was extremely difficult. I got her to put her left arm around my shoulders, took my left hand off the rope and somehow managed to use all my strength to pull her out.

“I sat her down at the side and she was shivering. A man from one of the boats came over and his partner came out and she called for an ambulance. She also got some blankets to keep the girl warm.”

Mr Burvill added: “I have Parkinson's disease and take tablets that enable me to have some normality for periods in the day. I don't know how I did it, really. But nobody else looked as though they were bothered.”

Police and an ambulance arrived after the rescue. The woman did not need to go to hospital and is believed to have made a full recovery.

After 12 years in the Army Air Corps, Mr Burvill moved to Norwich to be a commercial pilot in 1981. He got to know numerous celebrities down the years, which included five years flying Formula One drivers to grand prix circuits.

He also often flew members of the Royal Family and celebrities including David Soul, Richard Branson, Noel Edmonds and Spandau Ballet.

On April 27 1966 he made headlines in newspapers in Scotland when he dived into Victoria Dock at Dundee harbour to rescue six-year-old Kenneth McGregor, who had slipped into the water while playing with friends.

The then Lance Cpl Burvill, 22, dived fully clothed from the stern of The Chub, a Royal Transport Corps motor launch that was berthed at the harbour awaiting army manoeuvres at Buddon Camp.

On July 5 that year, he was given a Royal Humane Society award for the rescue.

t Are you the woman who was rescued, or did you witness the incident? Call Steve Downes on 01603 772495 or email steve.downes@archant.co.uk.

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