Helicopter sighting proves to be false alarm

Rescue workers continue to search for Irish surfer Stuart Butler who disappeared when a surf with his mates at Cozy Corner, on the southern edge of Cape Byron, went tragically wrong in high seas on Saturday.

Rescue volunteers search on foot after blood was sighted on rocks at Cozy Corner, at the southern edge of Cape Byron. PHOTO: Megan Kinninment
Rescue volunteers search on foot after blood was sighted on rocks at Cozy Corner, at the southern edge of Cape Byron. PHOTO: Megan Kinninment

UPDATE 1.15pm: RESCUE crews searching for missing surfer Stuart Butler took to land this morning after the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter spotted what appeared to be blood on the rocks at Cozy Corner.

Five members of the Brunswick Valley Rescue group and a police officer went in on foot to inspect the discovery but reported finding nothing more than the blood, which appeared to have come from a fish someone had caught and scaled at the scene.

The helicopter and two jet skis continued to search around the Cape until 11am today.

Police Inspector Bobbie Cullen said officials were keeping Mr Butler's family in Australia updated on the search and they were relaying news to the family in Ireland. 

Far North Coast surf lifesaving searches for a missing surfer off the coast of Byron Bay near the Byron Bay Lighthouse after three surfers got into trouble, one remaining unaccounted for.
Far North Coast surf lifesaving searches for a missing surfer off the coast of Byron Bay near the Byron Bay Lighthouse after three surfers got into trouble, one remaining unaccounted for. Marc Stapelberg

6.41am: AFTER an intensive two-day search in heavy seas and strong winds, the fate of missing Irish-born surfer Stuart Butler remains unknown.

The search will resume at 7.30am today, but police now believe it has become a recovery operation.

A huge amount of resources from multiple rescue agencies were thrown into the search effort yesterday.

Police believed the missing 20-year-old may have either been caught on rocks or otherwise swept northwards as far as Brunswick Heads.

Three jetskis and a jet boat tasked from Surf Life Saving NSW roamed as heavy waves of up to three metres broke in front of the cliffs where the man was last seen.

But the jetskis were unable to safely get close enough to properly search the cliffs, and were called off at about 11.30am.

Several aircraft were also tasked to assist, including an Australian Search and Rescue fixed-wing plane with heat-sensitive scanners, which ran a sweep of the entire area north of Cape Byron to Brunswick Heads and three helicopters.

About 11am a team from the Brunswick Volunteer Rescue Squad staged the first of three vertical rescue drops off the Cape in an effort to find any evidence of the missing man or his surfboard. But all search efforts were officially called off by 1pm as weather conditions worsened.

"Police at this point ... are probably looking at more of a recovery due to the weather conditions and the swell," Tweed-Byron Local Area Command Inspector Bobbie Cullen said.

"But we're doing everything we can."

Inspector Cullen said an underwater search at the base of the cliffs by police divers would not be possible until at least Wednesday, when the dangerous conditions were expected to ease.

She noted that conditions at the base of the cliff were as cold as two degrees overnight and Mr Butler had not been wearing a wetsuit.

Meanwhile, distressed relatives of the missing surfer were left facing an agonising wait for news after the search was abandoned for yet another day.

After arriving on a plane from Melbourne, the relatives were briefed by lead detectives coordinating the search.

Topics:  cape byron drowning editors picks surfing

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