A MAJOR rescue operation was launched on Tuesday after a dog fell into the River Irwell in Radcliffe.

The incident close to Church Street/Blackburn Street was reported by the dog's owner shortly after 2pm and involved three fire engines from Whitefield, Bury and Eccles and a specialist water incident unit also from Eccles.

Watch manager Tony Wellock from Whitefield Fire Station said the bull mastiff type dog, which had escaped from its owner, had ended up initially in a shallower part of the river upstream.

"Our understanding is that the dog had been owned by this man for about one week and had legged it from its owner's house, who was on crutches, and who subsequently reported it being in the river to emergency services."

According to Mr Wellock, the rescue involved the use of a long ladder down into the river where firefighters then waded to a culvert ledge where the stranded dog was half submerged in the river.

An eye witness said: "I was on my way to pick up my son and saw four fire engines on Blackburn Street, Radcliffe, so had a look.

A crowd of about 50 people were looking over the bridge and one told me that a dog had fallen into the river."

Mr Wellock added: "The whole operation took about 40 minutes, before the wet, but otherwise unharmed dog was reunited with a relieved owner."

A Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue spokeswoman added: "We were called at 2.01pm to rescue an animal from Church Street.

"The crews used a 9 metre ladder to rescue the dog who was in the river. Crews were on the scene for 40 minutes."