The family of a man who went missing after his boat capsized near Larne was last night clinging to faint hope that he will still be found alive.
The missing man was named locally as 29-year-old father of two Graham Nixon, who is due to get married in a fortnight.
A massive search operation was suspended yesterday evening by police and the Coastguard at Mill Bay where Mr Nixon was last seen in the water clinging to the capsized boat.
It is understood the Larne man went fishing with a friend in a rowing boat on Saturday while his fiancee was celebrating her hen night. When the boat capsized, Mr Nixon’s friend managed to swim to shore shortly before 4pm. The man, who is in his 30s, was taken to hospital, believed to be suffering from hypothermia.
A specialist search team of divers was deployed yesterday as hopes faded of Mr Nixon being found alive. It is understood the young couple have a child together and also look after Mr Nixon’s child from a previous relationship.
Officials said they believed that neither of the men was wearing a life jacket. Alan Pritchard, Belfast Coastguard watch manager, said: “We are very concerned for the safety of the missing man.
“We think that the two men may have been in the water for up to an hour before the first man was found.” Larne mayor Bobby McKee described it as “a very sad state of affairs”.
“My heart goes out to his young fiancee and his family,” the DUP mayor said.
“We can only hope that they find him.”
Larne alderman Danny O’Connor said the town was deeply saddened by events.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the families at this time,” he said. “People are fearing the worst but hoping for the best.”
The SDLP councillor said there had been a number of tragedies involving small boats in Larne in the past.
“We need to respect the sea,” he said.
“The message needs to go out that people going out to sea must have proper life jackets and equipment. Even in a sheltered lough like Larne people need to be prepared for any eventuality.”