A man is missing after being swept over board as waves up to 20 feet battered the coast this morning.
The crewman from a professional tug boat was lost overboard five miles south of Sovereign harbour as gale force winds, gusting at up to 60-miles-per-hour and violent seas were reported in the English Channel.
Eastbourne all-weather lifeboat (ALB) was launched at 12.39am this morning.
The man was aboard the tug Endurance with one other person was on passage from Dover to Brighton with a 60ft motor cruiser under tow when the tragedy occurred.
It is understood the tow broke and the man was trying tore-establish the tow when he fell overboard.
A RNLI spokesman said: “His colleague sent out a Mayday distress call which mobilised the rescue services. Quickly on scene Eastbourne ALB began the search close inshore off Beachy Head joined later by Coastguard Rescue helicopter 104.
“With nothing found Newhaven all-weather lifeboat was also requested to join the hunt for the missing person.
“During the night Newhaven lifeboat was diverted to collect the cabin cruiser which had drifted five miles from the scene and took it under tow to Sovereign Harbour.”
The two lifeboats continued their search throughout the night and were joined at first light by mobile units from HM Coastguard. The search was finally abandoned at 09.10am this morning and the tired and battered volunteer crews returned to their respective stations having spent almost nine hours at sea, the RNLI spokesman said.