Captain Geoff Burvill, 66, was returning home at about 1am after seeing in 2010 when he spotted a distressed young woman heading towards a nearby river.
Within minutes the pensioner, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, risked his own life, using every ounce of his strength to pluck the woman from the freezing water.
Mr Burvill, who was honoured by the Royal Humane Society for rescuing a six-year-old boy from Dundee Docks in 1966, said: "My partner Geraldine and myself saw the girl coming out the Waterfront pub here in Norwich, she was shouting and swearing and upset saying someone had called her a freak.
"She was very tipsy and wasn't sure what she was doing. She was heading down a small cobbled track covered in sheet ice towards the River Wensum.
"I just thought 'Christ, she's going to drown'. I said to Geraldine 'I don't like the look of this, I'm going after her'.
"Geraldine tried to stop me but I said to her 'I know what I'm doing, I'm ex-military'."
Dundee-born Capt Burvill, who grew up in North Berwick, continued: "I was 40 metres behind her and she turned left near the river. She was confused and I lost her for a few seconds. It was very dangerous.
"Suddenly I spotted her. She was slipping into the water. I slipped as well as I tried to reach her."
Capt Burvill held on to a rope and held out his other hand to the girl, named Sarah.
"She was floundering in the cold water, which was no more than 5C. She was going under and had no way of pulling herself out.
"I held her hand and tried to pull her out," he said.
"It was extremely difficult. I got her to put her left arm around my shoulders, took my left hand off the rope and somehow managed to use all my strength to pull her out."
Capt Burvill said that a man from one of the boats nearby came over to them, while his partner came out and she called for an ambulance and got some blankets to keep the girl warm.
"I have Parkinson's disease and take tablets that enable me to have some normality for periods in the day. I don't know how I did it, really. But nobody else looked as though they were bothered."
Capt Burvill added: "I don't know where I got the strength to pull her out, I knew from my pilot training she would die from hypothermia in that water. I thought 'I will save a life and if I die, so be it. I'd rather it was me than her'."
The woman did not need hospital treatment and is believed to have made a full recovery.
Capt Burvill first made headlines on 27 April,1966, after diving into Victoria Dock at Dundee harbour to rescue Kenneth McGregor, who had slipped into the water while playing with friends.
The then Lance Corporal Burvill, 22, dived from the stern of The Chub, a Royal Transport Corps motor launch berthed at the harbour awaiting army manoeuvres at Buddon Camp.
After 12 years in the Army Air Corps, he left the forces and moved to Norwich to become a commercial pilot in 1981, often flying members of the Royal Family, Formula One racing drivers and celebrities such as Starsky and Hutch star David Soul and pop group Spandau Ballet.
Dr Kieran Breen, director of research and development at the Parkinson's Disease Society, said: "This is an amazing story of bravery in anyone's books, not least by someone with Parkinson's who may have problems controlling movement."