A major search for a 36-year-old woman believed to have been swept out to sea following a night out has been called off because of appalling weather.
Solent Coastguard stood down the search and rescue mission at about 9am following an exhaustive search of Brighton beach throughout the night and during first light this morning, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said.
Sussex Police called Solent Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre at 2.24am to tell them that a woman had gone into the water opposite the Digital nightclub, just west of the town's Palace Pier.
The woman, believed to be from Brighton, left the seafront nightclub and was walking along the beach between West Pier and Palace Pier with a man she knew when she ran into the water and was almost immediately swept off by a large wave, a police spokesman said.
People tried to reach the woman but rough seas with three-metre waves made it impossible, the MCA spokeswoman said.
Coastguard rescue officers, lifeboat crews, police and a helicopter spent the night searching for her.
South East Coast Ambulance Service HART team was also at the scene, the spokeswoman said.
The coastguard helicopter from Lee-on-Solent was sent to the scene alongside the RNLI all-weather lifeboat based in Shoreham, West Sussex.
The police spokesman said: "The man tried to grab her but was unable to drag her to safety.
"Police officers arrived within minutes and, together with club staff and her friend, approached the sea edge but the woman was being washed further away and was inaccessible due to the very heavy sea conditions.
"Coastguards swiftly assisted the search by land and sea but the body has not, so far, been recovered and the immediate search has been discontinued at this time."
He said he does not know why the woman ran into the water and that the incident is not being treated as suspicious.
Her next of kin have been contacted by family liaison officers, he said.
Chief Superintendent Nev Kemp said: "Police and the coastguard searched for several hours in very difficult and dangerous weather but have been unable to locate the woman. We will continue to be vigilant for any sightings along the beach.
"The sea was very rough indeed overnight and we always urge people to be very careful and stay away from the water's edge anywhere along the coast when the weather is so bad."
Solent Coastguard said: "We conducted a thorough search of the area and nothing was found. The conditions down there are appalling. It's force eight with severe gale warnings."
Coastguard water rescue officers from Shoreham and Littlehampton, and the crew of the RNLI inshore lifeboat, based in Brighton, also joined the search as "spotters" to help the helicopter and lifeboat try to find the woman in the water.
Solent Coastguard watch manager Paul Marlow said: "We believe that a couple went into the sea after a night out on the town. One managed to get back out of the rough sea but sadly the other was swept out to sea.
"Gale-force wind, rough seas and darkness make it difficult to spot a person in the water who needs help and so our request is simple: please don't end your night out with a dip.
"Cold water and powerful seas mean that it's really not as much fun as you might think."