Missing surfer's family plead for prayers in search
THE family of a young Dublin man who went missing while surfing in Australia have said they are hopeful that he will be returned to them.
And they have asked that people keep Stuart Butler in their thoughts and prayers while the search for the 20-year-old continues.
The young man, who is from Santry, got into difficulty while surfing at Byron Bay, in New South Wales, last Saturday.
Two other men aged 19 and 25 were rescued a short distance away.
However, despite extensive searches, emergency services have yet to find any trace of Mr Butler.
Local police have now issued a statement on behalf of Mr Butler's family as the search continues.
"We'd like to say a huge and heartfelt thank you on behalf of Stuart's family both here and back in Ireland for the support we have received from the local community," a family spokesperson said.
"In particular, the local police in Byron Bay and Tweed Heads, the Queensland police helicopter, Surf Life Saving North Coast, Brunswick Volunteer Rescue Association and Australian Maritime Search Authority.
"We appreciate all of the efforts made to help find Stuart," the spokesperson added.
"We would also like to make special mention of Mojo Surf and to the Arts Factory for their continued support, and their efforts to make us comfortable during this difficult time.
"We are full of hope that he will be returned to us and ask all to keep him in their thoughts and prayers," the family spokesperson concluded.
Emergency Services were called to Tallow Beach just before 11am on Saturday, following reports three male surfers were caught in a rip.
Stuart had been joined by friends Levi Fahrenholtz (25), from Seattle in the US, and Mike Fuller (19), from England, for a day on the waves.
Mr Fuller succeeded in getting to the rocks but Mr Fahrenholtz was swept out to sea, only to be rescued around the Cape.
Earlier this week, a police spokesperson told local media that the rescue search had moved to a search for a body.
"The man is listed as a missing person and we will continue to search for him," Sgt Jack Keough of Tweed/Byron Local Area Command said.
"However, this is now a body recovery operation."
The sergeant also said that sea conditions were too dangerous for the New South Wales Police Diving Unit but they were due to arrive in the area by Friday, local time.
The sergeant also confirmed that foam surfboard fragments found on Monday during a search on the rocks belonged to one of the surviving surfers.
"We have been searching from Cosy Corner to Broken Head; Byron Bay to Brunswick Heads and from the North Wall at Brunswick Heads to Cudgen and Byron Marine Rescue have been maintaining an observation point from Cape Byron," Sgt Keogh said.
He added that the National Parks and Wildlife Service had also been notified to be on the look-out.