TRIBUTES have been paid to an Eastbourne doctor lost at sea and presumed dead after a diving trip ended in tragedy.
Dr Judy Beard, a leading consultant at Eastbourne DGH, is thought to have drowned at the end of a dive on a wreck six miles off the coast near the Royal Sovereign Light Tower on Tuesday.
A major sea search took place for more than eight hours but the 52-year-old’s body has still not been found and experts believe she may be lost to the sea forever.
Dr Beard’s devastated husband Nicholas Belcher and daughter Holly said she was loved and respected by many people from all walks of life.
The tragedy unfolded on Tuesday lunchtime. Dr Beard and seven friends had been out on the Betty Louise boat, which belongs to Hastings Sub Aqua Club.
The group had finished their dive and Dr Beard is believed to have been getting onto the boat when she slipped back into the water and disappeared.
That was the last time her friends saw her. Distressed companions made a Mayday call to the coastguard from the boat at 1pm and lifeboat crews from Eastbourne and Hastings rushed to the scene, along with several fishing vessels and a cargo boat, including the Eastbourne-based fishing boat Beachy Head and cargo boat Pangani. A relief lifeboat on its way to Dungeness was also diverted - to help with the search and the Coastguard helicopter sent out.
After more than eight hours and with the light fading, the decision was made to call off the search.
Dustin Houghton at Planet Divers in Eastbourne said the diving community was devastated.
He said, “Our condolences go the diver’s family and the other divers on the boat with her. This sort of incident is very, very rare. We are part of a diving family and everyone is upset.”
Dr Beard worked at both Eastbourne and Hastings hospitals as a consultant haematologist and lead cancer clinician and was highly respected among staff and patients.
A spokesperson for both hospitals said, “We are deeply shocked at the tragic loss at sea of our esteemed colleague and friend Dr Judy Beard. “Judy was a well-respected doctor loved by her colleagues and patients alike. She will be deeply missed by us all. Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this sad time.”
In a statement on Wednesday, Dr Beard’s husband Nicholas Belcher said, “Judy was an experienced scuba diver and diving with friends from her club. An accident occurred and she was lost into the sea. Judy was loved and respected by many from all walks of life. We wish to thank the emergency services who searched for her in vain with skill and dedication and showed much compassion.”
Tributes have also been made to Dr Beard on the Herald website.
Jacky said she had known Dr Beard for four years when she treated her leukaemia. “Judy was a very special lady - always very professional yet friendly and approachable. This is such a sad loss to all who knew her – patients, friends, colleges and family. I was still under her care and can’t believe I won’t see this lovely person again.
“She meant so much to so many. It is such horrible news and such a great loss to the Conquest and DGH.”
Maxine123 wrote, “We, Maxine and Michelle, are two of Dr Beard’s leukaemia patients. She was a fantastic caring consultant and a lovely person. We are devastated and offer condolences to her family. ”
Kaz75 said, “RIP Dr Beard, you were a fantastic doctor who has worked very hard to improve the life of cancer sufferers and people with haematological conditions. Your colleagues on the McCartney unit and within the hospital are devastated with the sad loss of someone so kind and caring, you had so much time and patience to give to patients and families as well as the staff.”