Belfast Telegraph

Storms halt searches as hopes dwindle for man swept out to sea

By Joanne Fleming

Hopes are fading that a man swept out to sea at Portrush on Saturday will be found alive.

After stormy weather halted searches yesterday, police said they were no longer treating their search as a rescue operation.

The Coastguard also warned survival times in this area of the sea were very short.

The man, a 38-year-old Polish national thought to be from the Dungannon area, was last seen at Ramore Head in Portrush on Saturday around 4pm after making his way back from a fishing trip with two friends.

A search involving Portrush lifeboats, Coleraine and Ballycastle Coastguard teams, a police helicopter and an Irish Coastguard helicopter was called off at 8pm on Saturday due to poor light. Gale force winds also led to the resumed search yesterday morning being called off by lunchtime.

Police said storm force winds had made search conditions too dangerous.

"The conditions will be continuously reviewed with a view to recommencing the search as soon as it is safe and practical to do so," a spokeswoman said.

"Police would remind members of the public not to attempt to carry out any independent searches.

"There is a very real risk to life in untrained and inexperienced individuals attempting to undertake this type of work, particularly in the midst of severe weather conditions."

Earlier, teams walked along the shoreline and searched nearby islands, but nothing was found.

An RNLI all-weather lifeboat also searched the area where it is thought most likely someone in the water would be.

Chris Little, station officer for Coleraine Coastguard, said weather had deteriorated as the search progressed and hope of finding the man alive was dwindling.

"We are now experiencing gusts of wind up to storm force where it is almost impossible for our teams even to stand on rocks," he said.

"But the area has been thoroughly searched, and as the tide rises here conditions are going to become even more dangerous."

He explained that the missing man on his fishing trip had been caught by the swell and taken in to the sea, and unable to return to the shore.

"The water is very cold, conditions are extremely rough and the longer this incident progresses the faster hope dwindles," said Mr Little.

"Survival times in the sea in this area are very low for someone who is not wearing any form of lifejacket or protection at all.

"I would say to people to take every precaution if you are going near the water.

"If you are going fishing on rocks – which in itself is a very dangerous thing – you should always wear a lifejacket or some form of buoyancy aid.

"That way if you do get swept into the water, there is at least a chance you will be able to keep afloat until you can be recovered."

Meanwhile, a 45-year-old man remains in a critical condition in hospital after being rescued from the water off nearby Portstewart on Saturday evening.

The Irish Coastguard helicopter winched the man to safety and he was taken to the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine.

He had been reported in the water shortly after 6pm.

It's thought he had gone in from the harbour wall.

Mr Little added that both incidents served as a timely reminder that sea conditions on the north coast could be unpredictable.

"The swell can rise very suddenly," he said.

"Being anywhere near rocks in those conditions is very dangerous."

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