A MISSING diver was found alive and well shortly before a massive air and sea rescue operation was called off.

The diver managed to defy the odds by swimming for four hours to shore after becoming separated from his boat.

He stumbled ashore and made his way to the top of the cliff where he managed to alert the emergency services.

A major rescue operation was launched after he disappeared off the coast close to the Lulworth Banks off Ringstead yesterday afternoon.

Portland Coastguard received an emergency call at 4pm and tasked the search and rescue helicopter, Weymouth all-weather and inshore lifeboats and Dorset Police’s inflatable rib craft to scour the area for the missing man.

Local boats in the area also answered a call to join in the hunt.

A spokesman for the coastguard said: “We received a call at 4pm of a missing male diver in Weymouth Bay and we got the helicopter, two lifeboats and police rib and various other local boats on scene.

“It is believed that a couple of people had gone scalloping, it wasn’t a dive boat he was with.”

The man is believed to have been wearing full scuba diving gear.

Coastguards were close to calling off the search when the man was found on the coast near Ringstead shortly before 8pm.

A spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said: “In all the time I have been doing this job I have never heard of a missing diver swimming ashore from that far out to sea.

“He is believed to be safe and well but I don’t have any further information at the moment.”

Charter boat skipper Paul Whittall who joined in search said: “It is absolutely amazing. He must have swum at least a mile and a half and I have never come across anything like it. It is great news.”

Mr Whittall was bringing a party of anglers back to Weymouth on his boat Offshore Rebel when he heard a call from a boat reporting a missing diver.

He said that he followed the tide line from the diver’s last know position about a mile and a half south of White Nothe on the western edge of the Lulworth Banks. It is a well known are for scallop diving.

He added: “We were involved in a search with lifeboats and other vessels.

“We were on our way back from fishing in mid-Channel when I heard the call from the dive boat. Several boats heard it and offered assistance. Portland Coastguard upgraded it to a mayday.

“Divers send up surface marker buoys to show their position. I think he sent his last one up about 4pm.

Mr Whittall said that the conditions were tricky with a force 4 from the South West.

He added: “The sea was a bit lumpy which makes it difficult to spot people.

“There were half a dozen boats out here including the two lifeboats and a research vessel has just joined us. It’s the code of the sea. You help if you can.”

One Lulworth fisherman, who did not wish to be named, said that he believed the boat and the missing diver were from Poole.

He said that scallop divers normally hang onto a marker buoy underwater before surfacing to decompress.

He said: “Something must have happened and he drifted with the tide away. Sometimes when that happens if divers swim straight north and across the tide and if they are fit, they will make it to the coast.

“The team is from Poole and they are well versed in what they do, they aren’t amateurs, they know exactly what they’re doing.”

n catherine.bolado@ dorsetecho.co.uk