A WOMAN was recovering in hospital last night after suffering hypothermia when she fell through the ice into a frozen pond.

The woman, who is in her 50s, is believed to have gone onto the ice in pursuit of her dog, but the ice cracked, plunging her into the freezing waters.

The drama happened on flooded land near the waterworks in Bishop Middleham, near Sedgefield, County Durham, on Saturday.

The alarm was raised by a passer-by.

It is believed the woman was in the water for about 20 minutes before she was rescued by firefighters.

Two crews and a boat crew from Bishop Auckland arrived at the scene shortly after midday.

Firefighters Steven Binns and Paul Myers waded in to pull the woman to safety.

She was treated by paramedics at the scene and taken to the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton, where she is said to be making a good recovery.

The whereabouts of the dog are not known.

District station manager Ian Dockerty, who was at the scene as the rescue took place, said that the firefighters had saved the woman's life.

He said: "We are really pleased with the excellent work done by the crews. If they hadn't responded so quickly, we would have had a fatality here.

"It was quite difficult access, behind a farm track.

"When the crews got there, they couldn't get all the way to it, so we sent the two lads in.

"She was quite a way out, about 150 yards.

"It was a big pond and she had gone right through it.

"She was exhausted and was in danger of drowning, especially if she had begun to panic. It was also freezing."

He added that the incident served to demonstrate the dangers of the icy conditions, and that people should not risk walking across icy surfaces.

He said: "People shouldn't be walking across ice, you never know how thick it could be and it is very dangerous."

The area, near a farm and the village church, has been known to flood in the past, but residents said it had never previously caused an accident.

One said: "There have not been any accidents before, but it does flood from time to time.

"I hear the lass is in a bad way. It is a shame."

Ken Pritchard, of Bishop Middleham Parish Council, said: "I have been in the parish for ten years and it is the first time anything like this has happened."