Brighton: Search For Missing Yachtsman

The search for a missing yachtsman whose boat was found empty and drifting by the wall of Brighton marina has been called off.

The man, believed to be Leonard George King, from Alfriston, was reported missing at 9.50pm yesterday when he failed to return home to his wife.

He is believed to have taken his 70ft Sunseeker vessel sailing between Brighton and Newhaven, on his own yesterday afternoon but his family became concerned when he did not return home, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said.

A spokeswoman said a friend of Mr King told Brighton Marina that the man could not be found and the search and rescue operation was launched.

Brighton RNLI said fears for the missing man grew when a crew member boarded the Sunseeker, found drifting on the inside of the eastern breakwater of Brighton Marina, and found no one on board even though the instruments were still on and the engines were still warm.

Rescue efforts were also halted temporarily in the night by an electrical storm which made it too dangerous for the RAF rescue helicopter to fly.

But the search was eventually called off by the Coastguard at 11.15am today following extensive sweeps of the shoreline overnight, all the way around Brighton Marina, by the Newhaven and Shoreham Coastguard rescue teams.

The MCA said lifeboats had searched "in and out of every pontoon'', the stretch of water between Newhaven and Shoreham, West Sussex, and as far out as 2.5 miles offshore.

Crews were stood down at 5.30am but relaunched at 7am as it was getting light, the RNLI said.

Roger Cohen, Brighton RNLI lifeboat operations manager, said conditions for the volunteers overnight were "challenging''.

He said: "We had heavy rain with passing thunderstorms and fork lighting in Sussex throughout the night, making things even more challenging than they would normally be.

"At the moment this is something of a mystery - the Sunseeker was found within the eastern breakwater of the marina, banging up against the wall.

"When my crew boarded they found evidence it had recently been operated, but no sign of anyone.

"Judging by the instruments and passage plans we found, the yachtsman appears to be skilled and experienced.''

The MCA spokeswoman said: "Despite these extensive searches, nothing has been found.

"Unless any new information comes to light, the search has been suspended.''

She said full details of the search had been passed to Sussex Police.