New York socialite dies saving friends

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A New York socialite and one of the city's richest women has died with the friend she was trying to rescue after a fire ripped through her five-storey mansion.

Catalina "Kitty" Meyer, 60, had already saved the lives of five other people, including her 82-year-old husband, Alvin, when she returned for her house guest, Zohra Zondler, a Moroccan-born actress.

The fire at the Upper East Side mansion - a neo-classical 19th-century building - was caused by a short-circuit in Christmas lights draped over the facade. A spark set fire to the curtains in a third-floor room and the blaze rapidly took hold.

Awakened by smoke, Mrs Meyer roused her husband along with another house guest and three servants and helped them to escape. She then remembered that Ms Zondler was on the top floor and, ignoring the pleas of her butler, pushed her way back inside. But by the time she reached Ms Zondler's room they were both caught in a fire trap.

The fire brigade arrived just as both women jumped to their deaths from the window, their hair and bodies aflame.

Thomas Van Essen, New York's Fire Commissioner, described Mrs Meyer, who was one of the first women stockbrokers on Wall Street, as a "true heroine".