A woman died in her fiancée’s arms when she fell overboard during a romantic river cruise they had booked to celebrate their engagement after years apart.
Peter Thornburn, 71, and Sheila Currie, 69, had taken the trip to mark the second anniversary of their reunion.
They had first met and fallen in love in their 30s but grew apart before getting back together as pensioners.
They decided to get married and Sheila, 69, booked a surprise river cruise on the Thames in May ahead of their wedding which was set for last month.
But the motorboat outing ended in horror when grandmother-of-two Sheila stumbled overboard as they moored up for lunch at Goring, Oxon.
Her leg was slashed by the boat’s propeller and Peter grabbed her hand and held her above the water as he called for help.
But the blade had ripped open an artery and she died within moments as he held onto her.
A lock-keeper dived in and hauled her body onto the riverbank before calling 999. She was airlifted to hospital but pronounced dead soon afterwards.
Devastated Peter, who lives in London, said: “It was a romantic trip for the pair of us that she had organised as a surprise for me. That’s the kind of person she was.
“I slept with my passport under my pillow because some days you just never knew what she would have planned for us.
“She was a wonderful adventurous person, it was such a tragedy what happened to her.”
The couple, who each had a child from previous marriages, first met nearly 40 years ago at a poetry event in the George Hotel in Edinburgh.
But because of work commitments they drifted apart and lost contact with each other for many years until Sheila spotted Peter in a TV advert.
She bombarded his agent with phone calls until Peter, an ad actor, agreed for her to be passed his number in order to “nip it in the bud”.
He was stunned when he realised it was his long lost love trying to get back in contact.
Peter said: “After all these years she managed to track me back down through my agent.
“I didn’t recognise her surname because she had gotten married since we’d been apart.
“But from our first reunion in Waterloo we were never apart from each other, it was as if nothing else had happened.”
Peter told how they were stopping for lunch on the riverbank and were preparing to moor the boat near the lock gates when Sheila slipped from the boat.
He tried to pull Sheila from the water but her leg was stuck underneath the boat and she begged him not to let her go.
He said: “I was just turning the engine off and I heard a stifled yelp. She hadn’t screamed so I didn’t think that anything was wrong.
“But when I turned around I couldn’t see her anywhere on the boat or the bank, but then I saw her hanging on to the back of the boat.
“I went to pull her out but she was stuck. I asked her if she okay and she said ‘yes, don’t let me go Peter’.
“She said she couldn’t feel her leg and then her eyes started flickering and she died in my arms.”
He added: “I couldn’t see what was wrong with her but I was shouting for help and the lock keeper ran over and jumped into the water and helped pull her out.
“That was when we saw what had happened to her leg. The paramedics tried to help her but there was nothing they could do.
“They said they thought the last flip of the propeller had cut her artery and she had bled to death. She had no chance.
“I’m still having counselling for it every few weeks. You imagine it when you go to sleep and look up at the ceiling, all you see is the horror.”
Peter said he had never experienced love before he first met Sheila, from Hook, Hants., and that the pair believed they were “meant to be”.
He added: “I still think now that she’s going to come through the door. It was just so quick.”
An inquest has been held and returned an accidental death verdict.