Wife pays tribute to a brave man who died helping others

Death on the lake: As the freeze shows no sign of abating, fireman's widow tells of the heroism that ended in tragedy
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The Independent Online
The widow of Michael Mee, the off-duty fireman who died while trying to rescue a girl from a frozen lake, yesterday described her horror as she watched him disappear under the icy waters.

Elizabeth Mee said her husband was "a wonderful, brave man who devoted his life to helping others". The couple were walking with their daughter, Katy, when the tragedy occurred at Hemsworth Water Park, Kinsley, West Yorkshire, on Thursday.

Mee, 48, fellow rescuer Jack Crawshaw, 51, and Tracey Patterson, 11, who had fallen through the ice while trying to rescue a dog, all died after medical teams spent more than five hours trying to resuscitate them.

Mrs Mee, 46, said her husband, who had been a fireman for 26 years, ran to help as soon as he realised that somebody had fallen into the water.

She said: "He sprinted round the lake, telling me and Katy to dial 999. The next thing I knew, Mike was on the ice trying to reach the little girl." At about the same time Crawshaw also plunged into the lake to try to save Tracey.

"Katy and I ran up and just kept shouting to Mike to try and support him, but he didn't have a chance. He had nothing to get hold of," said Mrs Mee, who also has a 17-year-old son, Christopher.

"The girl and the other man went underneath first, and then Mike disappeared. After that everything seems blurred. They were all gone by the time the firemen arrived." Katy, a student at Durham University, said: "I have lost a brave and wonderful father."

Both Mee, from South Hiendley, near Barnsley, and Crawshaw may be recommended for posthumous gallantry awards by West Yorkshire Police, although a spokesman said yesterday that no definite decision had yet been made. Both the Government and the Royal Humane Society could award medals for the rescue attempt.

Crawshaw, a bachelor, lived with his brother, Ian, in Wrenthorpe, Wakefield, and used to run a corner shop which adjoined their house. Ian said: "I am terribly upset. I have been up all night, I just cannot believe it. I am proud of my brother and what he did. I don't think of him as a hero, he was just the type of person who would do what was expected."

Gareth Easton, 11, a schoolfriend of Tracey's, said: "It doesn't surprise me she went after the dog. She just would not have been able to watch it drown because she adored them. What surprised me was how easily she was able to get into the water. You think they would have fences up."

His sister Sheryl, 17, who used to help Tracey with her homework when she brought it back from West End Middle School in Hemsworth, added: "There should be wiring all the way round that lake. I am not surprised this has happened.

"There is so much vandalism round there it is dangerous. When winter comes they should put fences round the place and close it down because this was a tragedy that was just waiting to happen."

Meanwhile, council officials revealed that as the tragedy unfolded, youngsters risked their lives by playing on another frozen lake a short distance away. Staff pleaded with them to get off the dangerously thin ice, but they refused.

Chris Geeson, clerk to Hemsworth council, which is reviewing safety measures at the park, said: "While they were dragging bodies out of the big lake, kids were on the ice on the smaller lake.

"They must have known what had happened but, when they were asked to keep off the ice, we just got abuse from them. It's very difficult to stop them.

"This is a first-class leisure facility that attracts around 75,000 people a year and we are constantly reviewing our safety policies. There are already plenty of signs up with lots of 'Don'ts' on them and quite frankly while the majority of people adhere to them a small minority don't. It's very difficult to stop that."

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