Distress call sparks major sea search

Tynemouth RNLI lifeboat arrives back at the lifeboat station after the search. Picture by Tynemouth RNLI
Tynemouth RNLI lifeboat arrives back at the lifeboat station after the search. Picture by Tynemouth RNLI

A mayday distress call prompted a major sea search last night.

A weak radio distress call with the spoken-word mayday was received by UK Coastguard's Humber Operations Centre shortly before 9pm.

The person making the call indicated that they were on board a vessel five miles out at sea from the Tyne piers and that a person on board may have been ill.

Attempts by UK Coastguard to contact the caller again were unsuccessful and a broadcast to all vessels in the area led to no further information being received.

Tynemouth RNLI all-weather lifeboat was requested to launch to search for the possible vessel in distress and with a volunteer crew of six sped to its reported position.

When the lifeboat crew found no trace of any vessel in the area the call was thought to have come from, they lit the lifeboat's searchlights and, coordinated by UK Coastguard, started searching the area of sea that covered where the wind and tide would carry a drifting vessel - a box-shaped area extending five nautical miles out to sea from the Tyne piers down to Sunderland.

Shore-based teams from Tynemouth and South Shields Volunteer Life Brigades also searched the coastline for any sign of a boat in difficulty or possible launching sites.

As the search progressed with nothing found, at 10.20pm a Coastguard rescue helicopter from Humberside airport was also tasked to join the lifeboat and arrived on scene at 11:12pm.

The search continued until 12.23am, at which point UK Coastguard was satisfied that the search had exhausted any possibility of anyone having been in difficulty in the area.

Adrian Don, spokesman for Tynemouth RNLI, said: "Our volunteer crew members launched into a bitterly cold night with a very rough sea and blustery winds at just after 9pm to search for the source of the distress call.

"The lifeboat and helicopter crews made a comprehensive search lasting for over three hours and covering nearly 40 square nautical miles but found no trace of any vessel or person in difficulty despite relatively good visibility and the helicopter's infrared camera.

"UK Coastguard concluded that all possible efforts to locate the mayday caller had been made and the search was terminated, with our volunteers returning to dry land at 1.10am after refuelling the lifeboat and making her ready for service again.

"If anyone in the area has any information about the mayday call, please call 999 and ask for the Coastguard."