Trapped in a dark sewer, the six little mallard ducklings found themselves cut off and facing an uncertain future.
Their only hope of seeing daylight again lay with their mother - who they had last seen more than a mile away as they were sucked into a drain.
Rescue seemed impossible. Yet somehow the mother duck had managed to follow her offspring for more than a mile, apparently listening to their cheeps of distress at manhole covers as they were swept along below ground.
Her incredible journey took her across a busy roundabout, countless roads, a metro rail line, a housing estate, two school playing fields and hospital grounds.
Reunited: The six ducklings with their mother
The trail finally ended when she waddled on to Barrasford Close in Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne, where her chicks suddenly stopped.
And it was there, standing over another man-hole cover, that the mother remained for the next four hours until local residents heard chirping coming from down below.
They in turn launched a rescue operation, removing the manhole cover and using a child's fishing net to scoop all six from the sewer one by one and reuniting them with their mother in a paddling pool.
Peter Elliott, 59, said he first noticed the mother duck at 6am as he left his home on Sunday for a run. 'I was so surprised to find she hadn't moved when I got back,' he said yesterday. 'I went over wondering if she was injured but there were no visible signs of a problem.
Peter Elliott, 59, (left) and friend Jim Calder, 62, wrenched off part of a manhole cover to rescue the ducklings
'I went in and had breakfast and looked out again. I saw she was waddling away from a drain cover but then immediately going back and sitting down on it.
'It seemed odd, I couldn't figure out what was wrong.
'It was only when his daughter, Vicki Jefferson, 30, took her two-year-old son, James, out to see the mother duck that they first heard the ducklings in the sewer below.
The Big Pond in Brunswick where the ducks were released
'Vicki said she thought she could hear cheeping sounds,' said Mr Elliott. 'It was fairly clear that her chicks were trapped underground.'
Mr Elliott, his son-in-law Rob Jefferson, 30, and neighbour, Jim Calder, 62, returned armed with spades, a crow bar and spanners.
'We managed to haul this heavy manhole cover up and saw six little ducklings scrabbling around in the drain,' said Mr Elliott. 'We got a little fishing net from the house and lifted each duckling out in turn.
The sewer access point is close to the River Ouseburn, near the Three Mile Inn on the Great North Road, Gosforth - two miles away from where the ducklings were finally rescued
'I called the RSPCA and they said to let them wander off. But in such a built up area we didn't feel happy doing that. So we drove them to a lake near Newcastle airport and watched them swim happily away. It was a lovely moment.'
Northumbria Water said the nearest sewer access point to Barrasford-Close was more than a mile away, close to the River Ouseburn. 'We believe the ducklings entered the surface sewer system there,' said a spokesman.
Owen Joiner, from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, said: 'I can only think that she followed the cries of her young from manhole cover to manhole cover. Had she not done so, the ducklings will almost certainly have perished.'
Epic ordeal: The storm drain where it is believed the ducklings entered the sewer, and right, the mother duck's incredible journey