Search for missing kayaker off Islandmagee stood down

Larne RNLI were involved in the search for missing carrickfergus man, Robert Hanna. INLT 40-996-CON

Larne RNLI were involved in the search for missing carrickfergus man, Robert Hanna. INLT 40-996-CON

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A massive search and rescue operation for a kayaker who went missing off Islandmagee has been called off.

Carrickfergus man Robert Hanna set off from Portmuck around 1.30pm on Monday and was expected back on shore at about 3pm, but the 47-year-old failed to return.

Robert Hanna

Robert Hanna

Dozens of local volunteers from Larne RNLI, Larne Coastguard and Portmuck Coastguard Cliff team formed part of a major search effort, involving four helicopters and six lifeboats.

The search extended from Carrickfergus to Ballycastle, while searches also took place off the Co Down coast.

But this afternoon (Tuesday), Belfast Coastguard confirmed to the Times that the operation had been stood down.

A spokesman said: “A thorough search of the area has been carried out and nothing was found. Mr Hanna’s whereabouts will now revert to the PSNI as a missing persons investigation.”

The search operation commenced at 7.30pm on Monday when Larne RNLI was requested to launch, with the all-weather and inshore lifeboats initially dispatched to search from Portmuck to Whitehead before moving to search the area of Gobbins Path.

Red Bay RNLI meanwhile was diverted while on a training exercise and requested to go southwards towards Larne.

Later at 9.30pm on Monday, the search was extended and both the inshore lifeboat from Bangor and the all-weather lifeboat from Donaghadee launched.

Bangor RNLI initially searched the Groomsport area before moving across back up into Belfast Lough while Donaghadee searched the Copelands area.

Volunteer lifeboat crew from Larne, Red Bay, Bangor and Donaghadee RNLI searched for the missing man through to the early hours of Tuesday morning, stopping at 3.30am for a short rest and to allow lifeboats to refuel.

Despite the darkness, weather conditions for searching were described as good during the night with clear visibility.

On Tuesday morning, Larne RNLI’s all-weather and inshore lifeboats and Red Bay RNLI’s inshore lifeboat launched once again, while Campbeltown RNLI in Scotland also joined the search.

A distress broadcast was also issued to fishing vessels in the area.

Larne RNLI volunteer Alistair Mawhinney told the Times: “This was a major operation, involving volunteers from four lifeboat stations and a number of Coastguard teams.

“We were also assisted by a PSNI helicopter, a Royal Navy Sea King from Prestwick in Scotland, and an Irish Navy helicopter from Dublin. Both Larne lifeboats were stood down this afternoon.”

The PSNI has appealed for anyone with information about Mr Hanna’s whereabouts to contact officers.

Area Commander in Mid and East Antrim, Superintendent Ryan Henderson, said of the case: “Over the coming hours and days we will continue to work with search and rescue teams, concentrating on the coast line, in the hope of finding him and getting him back safely to his family.”