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London - A British girl of five nearly drowned at a French ski resort after she was trapped in an underground tunnel filled with icy water for 20 minutes.

Penelope Oborne was stuck up to her neck in the bitterly cold water after she accidentally strayed away from the main run and fell through a thin layer of snow into a drain.

The terrified youngster was then dragged along the pipe by the force of the meltwater before being sucked into a tunnel.

By the time she was rescued by her ski instructor her body temperature had dropped to 31C (88F). She was taken to hospital by air ambulance, where she was found to be suffering from hypothermia

However despite her ordeal, the brave little girl, from Dursley, Gloucestershire, was back on the slopes at Alpe d’Huez the following day. The accident happened in front of Penelope’s ski-school classmates on Tuesday after she lost control of her skis and went off the main run.

The youngster went over a drainage hole at the edge of the piste that is usually completely covered by snow and ice. However, it had melted away because of recent warm weather, leaving just a thin layer, allowing Penelope to fall through. She was sucked into a drainage pipe that links to a natural underground tunnel where meltwater is carried through.

A dramatic rescue effort followed, which saw Penelope’s ski instructor lower himself into the hole with a rope. However the force of the current meant the pair could not be pulled out.

A team of rescuers then began digging with their bare hands to create another hole at the other end of the tunnel, and were able to pull the pair out from there.

Penelope’s parents were at the top of the mountain when the accident occurred and rushed to join her at the hospital.

On Thursday night her mother Serena Oborne, 49, said: "Initially, Penelope was in a lot of shock ... She was just completely struck dumb but gradually she relaxed ... She said that she’d sort of lost control and her skis had skidded off the edge, and she’d then fallen into this hole. She said it was a black hole and she got stuck and that she was shouting and shouting for help.

"They lowered the rescuer into the top end but they couldn’t pull him and Penelope back up against the flow of water but they could get to them through the new hole that they’d made."