THE search for a Blackpool man swept into the sea resumed today – but rescue crews confirmed there is no hope of his survival and they are now looking to retrieve a body.
The 41-year-old was walking a dog along the seafront near South Pier in the early hours of New Year’s Day when he and another man were washed into the water by a wave.
One of the men managed to swim to shore but the other could not get out of the water.
Despite a massive air and sea search, the 41-year-old has not yet been found.
Stuart Atkinson, a Coastguard spokesman, today told The Gazette: “We are now looking for a body – it is tragic.”
A major search and rescue operation was launched yesterday after two men were dragged into the sea by a large wave as they walked along the seafront steps near South Pier.
One man managed to swim to shore but the 41-year-old man, from Blackpool, was tragically washed away.
It is thought the men, and a female friend, were walking a dog along the seafront when tragedy struck just after midnight on New Year’s Day when the tide was high.
Friends on the seafront called 999 and at one stage a football and a life ring were thrown into the water in a desperate bid to help the man.
Despite the emergency services, including lifeboat crews from Blackpool and Lytham, spending hours searching for the man, he has not yet been found and the police have confirmed they do not believe he could have survived the treacherous conditions.
David Warburton, a crew member from RNLI Blackpool, today described the crews’ desperate bid to save the man and the dawning realisation he was lost to the waves.
He said: “When you’re involved in something like this you always approach it that you’re still involved in a rescue scenario, but unfortunately there comes a time when you start to think the worst may have happened.
“When the sea’s cold the conditions aren’t favourable for surviving for a long period of time but you never know, so you’re actively working on that basis.
“It’s very sad.
“As an organisation our aim is to save lives at sea and when that’s not the outcome that’s really disappointing and obviously sad for everybody involved.”
The man’s two friends, who are also from Blackpool, raised the alarm just before 12.15am, prompting a three-hour search operation.
Lytham and Blackpool lifeboat crews searched the water, aided by the Lytham Coastguard, and fire crews from across the Fylde coast were sent to the scene to provide lighting.
The police helicopter and the RAF Valley search and rescue helicopter from Anglesey were also scrambled.
Reports today suggested Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, was part of the RAF crew which joined the desperate search.
An ambulance crew was also called to the scene to look after the man who had managed to pull himself out of the water.
He was suffering from the effects of cold but did not need to be taken to hospital. The woman and dog were also said to be uninjured.
The search for the missing man was halted at 3.30am yesterday due to the bad weather.
Mr Atkinson said: “The water was quite rough and the wind was gale force eight making it difficult for Blackpool’s inshore lifeboat.”
The search operation resumed again at 7am yesterday morning until around 1pm when the tide began to rise again.
The Coastguard sent a crew from Lytham to search the area again at 8am today.
A spokesman said: “We gave him a survival time of about two hours.
“If he is in the water that long the chance of survival is nil, especially in Blackpool where the waves are crashing against the wall there.”
Police say their main focus now is trying to contact the man’s family.
It is thought he moved to Blackpool around a month ago from Barrow-in-Furness and lived with the two friends he was out walking with, but has family in Lytham.
A police spokeswoman said: “This person is missing, presumed dead. Our role is liaising with the family now.”
Promenade hoteliers described seeing the rescue attempt unfold.
Bobby Hope, owner of the Colonial Hotel, said: “It’s a terrible shame.
“There were people watching it at night with the helicopter. People don’t realise how bad the sea is.”
Paul Cook, bars supervisor at the Viking Hotel, said: “I saw flashing lights and people trying to look for him.”
Walkers on the Promenade said they were shocked to hear of the tragedy.
Sandra Campion, 67, of Church Street, Blackpool, said: “People don’t realise how dangerous the sea is.
“It’s terrible, we’ve had enough catastrophes round here.”
Malcolm Frary, 67, of Waterloo Road, South Shore, said: “A few years ago my wife and I walked down from a New Year’s Eve do along the sands but the sea was nothing like it is now.”
Jean Plant, of Station Road, South Shore, said: “I heard the sirens. It’s terribly sad.”
And Coun Tony Lee, Waterloo ward councillor, said: “Some family is going to have their hearts broken and it’s an awful thing to happen. We do everything we can as a council for people to be safe.
“I shudder to think about this. On what is supposed to be a joyous occasion it’s even worse.”