A dad has thanked a quick-thinking stranger who rescued his young daughter from the River Irwell.

Little Ava Wood was enjoying an afternoon in the sun with family when she became caught in the fast-flowing water at Burrs Country Park, in Bury.

The seven-year-old was paddling in a shallow section of water with her cousin, but found herself in trouble after slipping into a deeper part of the river.

With the current too strong, the terrified youngster began to drift downstream.

Her cries for help were heard by Maggie McGrath, who was swimming nearby with her granddaughter.

Maggie McGrath with Ava Wood

Without a thought for her own safety, the 51-year-old rushed to help Ava.

"I thought she was going to die," said Ms McGrath, from Heywood.

"I was in the water and I saw Ava follow another girl in.

"Her head starting bobbing up and down. I knew there was something not right.

"I heard her crying and she turned round and looked at me.

"I just knew I had to get to her. I didn't even think; I knew she was in difficulty."

"If she swam any further away she would have gone under."

Putting her own life at risk, Ms McGrath swam out in the current and grabbed a hold of Ava.

"I have never swam so fast in my life," she said.

Teddy Wood, five, Dave Wood, Ava Wood, seven and Maggie McGrath

"She disappeared under the water. I grabbed something and it was her.

"I was screaming at her to put her arm around my neck and she clung to me for dear life.

"I was trying to pull myself out of the rapids but it was pulling us in. The current was tumbling around the water like a whirlpool.

"I kicked my legs so much. It was so difficult to get out.

"I managed to get to the embankment and lodged my knee against the rock, but it dislodged and we were getting pulled back into the current.

"I was screaming 'somebody please help'. I just wanted someone to come and take her from out of my arms.

"I kept telling her to 'hold on to me, please don't let go'.

"The more I was pushing her up, the more I was going under. I could feel myself getting weaker."

Ava's father, Dave, was close to the river with family when he heard the commotion.

Realising his daughter was in trouble, he rushed down to the embankment and dived in to help.

The seven-year-old girl was rescued from the river in Burrs Country Park by a 51-year-old woman

However, he quickly found himself 'out of his depth' as he tried to pull the pair in.

"There was a point where all I could see was brown murky water," said Mr Wood.

"The more I was kicking, the less I was moving because of the current. I started to slip under. For a second, I thought I am not getting out of this."

Mr Wood's brother waded into the water and managed to pull Ava to safety.

But Mr Wood and Ms McGrath were still struggling in the river.

Mr Wood explained: "There was a huge boulder underwater and I hit it with my foot and pushed myself up, which gave me enough to get my head out of the water."

Instead of heading for the safety of the river bank, he bravely returned to help Ms McGrath.

"I turned around and could see the panic in her eyes," said Mr Wood, 37. "I grabbed her arm and pulled out of the water.

"When we got out, I just grabbed Ava and put her straight in the car and took her away.

"We didn't stop to say thanks."

Hours after the terrifying ordeal, Mr Wood's wife, Lauren, took to Facebook to try and track down the brave stranger who saved her daughter's life.

The post was shared hundreds of times before it was eventually seen by Ms McGrath's daughter, Heidi, who alerted her to it.

On Thursday, Ava, a pupil at Bamford Academy in Rochdale, and her father returned to Burrs to meet Ms McGrath and thank her for her bravery.

Mr Wood said: "I am so grateful she was there.

"We can't possibly thank her enough for what she has done.

"Some people might have panicked and froze in that situation.

"The whole thing just seemed unreal. Everything was fine and we were having a really nice day.

"Within seconds, it was almost the most tragic outcome.

"If Maggie was not there, I dread to think what would have happened."

The outcome could have been totally different had Ms McGrath left the park 10 to 15 minutes earlier as planned.

"We were going to go for a meal but I wanted to stay and play with my granddaughter," she said.

"I have always been a child. I will never grow up."

Ms McGrath describes the moment Ava got to safety as 'pure relief'.

However, she refuses to accept that what she did was heroic.

Instead, she attempted to deflect the praise on to Ava's dad for helping her to safety.

"He stretched his hand and pulled me in," she said.

"I am so grateful to him for making sure my granddaughter still has a grandmother.

"I was just there at the right time. I did what I needed to do.

"Anyone with a heart would have done the same.

"Ava was so brave, she did exactly what I asked her to do.

"I have had 50 years of my life, but that little girl has only had seven.

"I am just so happy and grateful she is back with her parents."