Belfast Telegraph

Search for missing Bangor woman: Popular beauty spot cloaked in sadness as fears of tragedy grow

By Michelle Smyth

It could have been any other day as dog walkers, cyclists and joggers made their way along the popular north Down coast on a wet and windy New Year’s Eve.

Except it wasn’t just any other day, but the third day of a major search and rescue operation for a young Bangor woman who has now been missing for four days.

The alert was raised on Monday by a member of the public who reported a bag of clothes had been left at a pier near the seaside town’s Brompton Road and the woman had swum out to sea.

The clothes were recovered by the PSNI which is now leading the search and rescue operation. On Monday and Tuesday police, the Coastguard, the RNLI, Lagan Search and Rescue and a fishery protection vehicle joined the hunt for the missing woman in an extensive operation spanning land and water. A PSNI helicopter has been used to carry out thermal imaging in an attempt to locate the swimmer along with an Irish Coastguard rescue helicopter.

Yesterday, the operation was scaled down with just two police search and rescue boats scouring the water and volunteer members of the Coastguard who searched the land along the coast in the wind and rain.

The grey-blue water near where the woman was last spotted was calm except for ripples caused by a couple of seals moving above and below the surface. In the distance, large fishing vessels were visible on the water through the thick cloud of mist blanketing the area.

The bleak greyness of the coastal scene was replicated in the missing woman’s street yesterday. While most people were busy planning their New Year’s Eve celebrations, it was an entirely different story at the young woman’s family home. Cars lined the street and driveway and people spoke words of comfort and support as they exited the front door, telling the family to call on them if they needed anything. The family declined to give the Belfast Telegraph a comment except to confirm that there was in fact a “missing woman”.

Because of the family’s request for privacy, the police have been unable to release the young woman’s name or issue an appeal to the public for information.

Many people along the coastal path seemed to know the young woman but respecting the family’s wishes, were reluctant to say too much.

A local who knows the family well said the missing woman, in her early 30s, had recently suffered a bereavement.

The local added that the young woman’s family were grateful for the work of all involved in the search operation.

Another man who was cycling along the path said the woman was a keen and strong swimmer who visited the area regularly.

“I’ve lived here for a long time and I have a fair idea of who the woman is. I’ve seen her swimming here many times,” he said.

Carol Magee, who was out walking her dog, said: “People swim here regularly all year round, whatever the weather. It is very sad, especially at this time of year. My thoughts are with the family and I hope they get some information soon on the whereabouts of their loved one.”

A Press officer for the RNLI said: “Sadly the lifeboat is called out all too often in this area when people get into difficulty. I would urge people to be safe and stay close to the shore when going out in small boats or while swimming, particularly at this time of year. The water is extremely cold and swimmers should not spend more than a few minutes in it. They should avoid swimming alone and should tell people where they are going.”

The Press officer added: “Many people hesitate to call on the coastguard and the RNLI, thinking it is expensive or they don’t want to put volunteers’ lives at risk. But it is better to be safe — that is what we are here for and we urge people to make that call.”

Local MLA Alex Easton said his thoughts and prayers are with the young woman’s family.

“It must be an extremely worrying time for this local family. Incidents like this highlight how dangerous the water is. I urge people to be aware of the dangers and to take precautions when they are out swimming — I urge them to go with friends and make sure people know where they are going.”

The DUP man added: “I would like to take this opportunity to praise all those involved in the search operation. Their tireless efforts have been remarkable.”

The Coastguard will take its lead from the PSNI which will decide if the search operation for the missing woman will carry on today.

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