Pictured: The storm drain toddler with the family dog who may have saved her life

Cuddled up on the sofa with her older sister and the family's adored dog, Leona Baxter will have had no idea how vital the pet would prove in saving her young life.

The three-year-old and sister Kiah posed for this picture with Brophy, their boxer-mastiff cross, before she survived being sucked down a hidden storm drain.

Brophy also fell into the whirlpool created by the drain as they were playing in a park during a family walk following torrential rain battering Britain last weekend.

It is thought he helped save Leona's life by dislodging her when she was stuck in the pipe, allowing the little girl to make her way through the underground tunnel.

Enlarge   Girl's best friend: Leona Baxter (right) with sister Kiah and the family dog, Brophy, who is thought to have helped save her when she was sucked down a storm drain

Girl's best friend: Leona Baxter (right) with sister Kiah and the family dog, Brophy, who is thought to have helped save her when she was sucked down a storm drain

She was carried 230ft in the trench before being shot out unconscious into a raging river where her quick-thinking father was waiting to rescue her.

Leona emerged with a few cuts and bruises and was treated for hypothermia but rescue workers have not been able to find the 10-month-old dog.

The toddler's family believe that the force of him being sucked into the drain after Leona may have saved her life.

'I can only think that she got snagged on something in the drain and that Brophy followed her in and the force of him dislodged her,' Mark Baxter said.

'That's the only reason I can think of as to why she wasn't further down the river when I got to her.'

The Baxter family

Miracle: Leona with her mother Beverley, father Mark and sister Kiah in hospital after her terrifying ordeal. Their dog Brophy is still missing

Leona was carried through the storm drain and into the nearby river where her father realised she would be spat out and was ready waiting.

Mr Baxter spotted her tiny blue raincoat first. 'Then I saw her hair and realised she was face down in the water,' he said.

'I jumped over the side and into the water, grabbed her and put her across my shoulder. She was completely still and wasn't breathing. I remember thinking "oh God, no".'

By the time the RAF sergeant had dragged his daughter from the swollen river, his wife Beverley was also on the riverbank at Riverside Park in Chester-Le-Street.

Leona at first appeared limp and lifeless but miraculously quickly spluttered back to life before being taken to hospital.

'We are the luckiest parents alive,' Mrs Baxter said. 'Someone was watching over us. I just thought "thank God we have got Leona, thank God that our family is still intact".'

The toddler, who remembers everything about her ordeal, was treated for hypothermia and had bumps and bruises. She was kept for observation but is due home today.

Her mother said: 'She keeps saying that she sank and that she was trying to do her star-float like her swimming teacher had said but she couldn't because she kept getting squashed. She then said that Daddy got her.'

Enlarge   great Escape.jpg

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now