A man has told how his “heart sank” when his wedding ring fell into a pile of rubbish at a tip on Valentine’s Day.
James Ross was dropping off cardboard at North Shields recycling centre when it flew off his finger and disappeared 10ft (3m) into a container.
It was found “caked in rubbish and grime” by staff, who have been described as “life savers”.
Mr Ross, 38, from Cullercoats, said his wife Lara, 40, thought he had made up an “elaborate” story.
The couple, who have two daughters, aged nine and five, have praised the staff for their heroics.
“It was a container where you push the rubbish through an opening,” said Mr Ross.
“My hands were cold and, as I was shaking out the box, suddenly the ring was just gone. I don’t know if it caught the edge of the box, but my heart just sank.”
After alerting staff, four workers went to help with the search on Sunday.
Mr Ross added: “I was losing hope and dreaded the thought of going home to my wife on Valentine’s Day and telling her my ring was lost.
“It wasn’t what it cost – it was laser engraved with my wife’s handwriting and the date we got married in 2009. It was irreplaceable.
“The team had to pull out a huge pile of rubbish and shove it all behind them and check it over and over again.”
The team was said to be close to giving up when after 20 minutes, plant operator Jordan Cooper, 22, spotted it in a puddle of mud under a 10ft pile of waste.
“It was like looking for a needle in a haystack as there was a huge mound of waste to search through and we had the added difficulty of ensuring we kept our distance and followed the Covid guidelines,” he said.
“We were just about to give up when I spotted it, I was over the moon.”
Site supervisor, Phil Cooper, was one of the four who went in to search for the ring alongside Adam McGregor and Brian Hellens.
“The lads were on their break when they shouted for us on the radio and asked us to shut down the machinery so we could enter the container and take a look.
“It was lying in a puddle of mud and was all scruffy. It looked like a washer at first glance but when you looked closely, it was all engraved inside and was obviously something very special.
“The guy was ecstatic when we handed back his ring. If it had fallen into a bag, it would have been gone.”