A WELL-RESPECTED doctor from Hooe is missing, presumed drowned, after a diving expedition with friends took a tragic turn.
Dr Judy Beard, also known as Judy Belcher, fell overboard and disappeared on Tuesday afternoon after diving with friends off the Eastbourne coast.
Lifeboat crews from Eastbourne and Hastings and the Coastguard rescue helicopter were scrambled just after 1pm and frantic eight-hour search was carried out in a bid to find the missing 52-year-old.
But despite a thorough search, rescuers decided to call the operation off at 9.15pm, due to the failing light.
Dr Beard, a consultant haematologist and lead cancer clinician, worked at both the Conquest Hospital in Hastings and Eastbourne District General Hospital.
Dr Beard was also a trustee at St Michael’s Hospice in St Leonards and chair of the Hastings Sub-Aqua Club.
She lived in Denbigh Road in Hooe with her husband Nicholas and daughter Holly.
On Wednesday Mr Belcher paid tribute to his wife.
He said: “Yesterday my beloved wife and mother of our daughter, Judy Belcher, was lost at sea and is presumed drowned.
“She was known to many as Dr Judy Beard of the East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, a Consultant Haematologist and Lead Cancer Clinician.
“She was an experienced scuba diver and was diving with friends from her diving club.
“An accident occurred and she was lost into the sea.
“She was loved and respected by many people from all walks of life.
“We wish to thank the emergency services of many disciplines who searched for her in vain with skill and dedication and showed much compassion.
“The family are aware that there are many well-wishers out there but we would appreciate it if people would respect our privacy in the current situation.”
Wealden district and Hooe parish councillor Pam Doodes lives next door to the family and heard the sad news whilst returning from a holiday.
She said: “This certainly is a tragedy.
“Judy lived next door to us with her husband, Nick, and daughter, Holly.
“As soon as I heard I phoned Dick Carey, chairman of Hooe Parish Council, who told me that everyone in the village has been shocked and saddened by the news.
“Judy was a well known, respected and valued member of the community. Our thoughts and prayers are with Nick and Holly, and once we’re home we shall see what we can do to help a shocked community.”
A spokesman for East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs the Conquest and DGH, said: “We are deeply shocked at the tragic news about the loss at sea of our esteemed colleague and friend Dr Judy Beard.
“Judy was a well respected doctor who was 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.”