Search for woman after 'rock fall'

A major search operation is under way for a young woman holidaying with her family after 400 tonnes of rock fell on top of her during a landslide on a beach.

Emergency services believe the heavy rain over the last few weeks combined with the recent heatwave caused the landslip near a holiday resort in Dorset.

Despite the size of the landslide, emergency services believe the woman - who is in her 20s - could still be alive. It thought she was on the beach with her family when the rock fall happened just before 12.30pm today.

It occurred just 400 yards from the Freshwater Beach Holiday Park at Burton Bradstock, near Bridport. Police, the fire service, ambulance service and the coastguard were dealing with the incident.

Group manager Mick Stead, of Dorset Fire and Rescue, said at a press conference at the holiday park: "It was a significant collapse, probably around 400 tonnes and that covers an area of 20 metres.

"There is also a danger from the cliffs either side. We do have confirmation that one person has been caught in the landslip. We have a good indication from eye-witnesses and we are using specialist equipment to determine their exact location and we'll put in a plan to carry out that rescue."

Mr Stead said the emergency services were using dogs and specialist listening devices to try to locate the trapped woman but there were fears of further rock falls. "The situation is obviously very dangerous and we are conscious there is a real risk to emergency service personnel," he said.

Witnesses said there had been one death at the site, which is known locally as Hive Beach. A worker at the Hive Beach Cafe said: "We have heard from people working at the scene that there has been one fatality. There was significant rock fall. We are waiting to find out more information but it is terribly sad."

Last week, Dorset Council issued a warning to visitors and walkers of the risk of landslides, following the heavy rain. The council said the western end of the Esplanade at West Bay, near Burton Bradstock, was closed at the weekend "due to concerns about continuing land stability in the area following the exceptional wet weather".

Witness Len Muggeridge was fishing off Burton Rocks when he heard the landslip. He told Sky News: "We heard a large thunder-like sound and we looked up and half of the cliff towards Freshwater had fallen down. Within 20 minutes there were people tramping over the top of it and then a second fall occurred. I would say somewhere in the region of about 30 or 40 tonnes of rock fell in the first fall and somewhere in the region of about 100 tonnes or more in the second fall."