Hopes fade for missing Cromer swimmer

Richard Batson Hopes of finding a swimmer who went missing at a notorious spot of sea near Cromer pier were fading last night as darkness fell on a major rescue operation.

Richard Batson

Hopes of finding a swimmer who went missing at a notorious spot of sea near Cromer pier were fading last night as darkness fell on a major rescue operation.

Five lifeboats, a helicopter and more than 30 people combed the surf to the east of the famous landmark at the height of the drama which began during an idyllic seaside teatime.

A local man in his 30s went missing after being spotted swimming ashore after climbing around the pier legs, and fears are growing that he may have drowned.

Emergency services launched immediately he got into trouble, because his plight was seen by lifeboat officials who happened to be on the pier.

And the headlining comic of the resort's pier show, Peter Piper, even stripped to the waist and waded in to help, before being called back by his bosses, because of the dangers lurking beneath the jetty, where a fast rip tide was running east.

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Last night as show music filtered from pier end pavilion theatre and the light faded, the search continued outside, watched by crowds along the seafront, including tearful relatives of the missing man.

But as darkness fell at 10pm the rescue efforts were wound down.

Lifeboat officials warned of the dangers of swimming near the pier, which is normally patrolled by lifeguards until 6pm. But the incident began at 6.10.

Lifeboat chairman Tony Webster, who was on the pier for a summer evening drink with his wife Peggy, said he was aware of people climbing under the pier, then heard two splashes. He alerted station operations manager Richard Leeds who was in the boathouse doing a routine phone pager check.

Mr Leeds said he leaned over and spoke to one man who was holding on to a pier strut, and said he was about to swim to shore.

“We watched him swim over the east groyne, then he suddenly stopped and we could see he was not going anywhere, so I launched the inshore boat.”

Soon the Cromer inshore and offshore boats were joined by others from Mundesley and Sheringham and an air sea rescue Sea King helicopter, along with the offshore boat's two-men “Y” boat, scouring an area as far as Trimingham to the east and up to three quarters of mile out to sea.

Other crew members waded chest deep through the surf. Lifeguards were called back to help, and coastguards searched the sea and shore.

Mr Webster said: “We could not have reacted any quicker.”

And station administrator Peter Stibbons added a stern warning that the area under the pier, especially the east groyne was “notorious.”

He added: “People think the tide goes in and out, but it actually goes along. There is a strong tide running at up to six miles an hour, which can carry you along.”

The incident will have brought back harrowing memories of the summer of 1995 when 10-year-old holidaymaker Graham Raddon's lifeless body was hoisted by a helicopter from the same spot where the man disappeared.

The youngster died in hospital despite the efforts of the air sea rescue crew and medics to save him, having also been caught in the rip tide while playing the sea.

Five years ago two local schoolgirls were luckier when they were plucked from the same current by rescuers, including a Spiderman hero who was dangled down from the pier on a rope.

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