HEROES were given a free ride at the opening of the biggest wheel on the South Coast.

Worthing mayor Hazel Thorpe officially opened the 46-metre-high Worthing Observation Wheel on Friday, hailing it as a beacon for tourism.

About 100 heroes, including volunteers from the Samaritans and Sight Support, were given a free ride to ring in the new attraction.

One dedicated volunteer, Ann Solcombe, has been a listening volunteer for Samaritans for seven years.

She said: “We feel very privileged to have been nominated, especially in our 50th year of Worthing Samaritans.

“We’re very proud to be involved in Worthing’s history and feel very proud of how valued we feel in the town.

“It’s exciting, we love being one of the local heroes chosen.”

Worthing Borough Council leader Dan Humphreys said the wheel would bring tourists and residents alike into the town centre.

He said: “These people deserve to be celebrated.

“We’ve had a fantastic time welcoming over a hundred local heroes, people who’ve done brilliant voluntary work and organising work in the local community, to the launch of the WOW.

“Last week I drove past the seafront and saw a bit of work being done, then a few days later I drove past again and it was up.

“It was like magic.”

Councillor Kevin Jenkins, who is in charge of regeneration, said his staunch support for the wheel had paid off.

He said: “It has been absolutely amazing to see the construction of the wheel.

“It is still in keeping with our beautiful seafront but it brings us forward too.

“Seeing all of the photographs people have taken shows how it has added to our town. People love it.”

Mr Jenkins called the wheel a “win-win” as it was funded almost entirely by operator deKoning Leisure.

He said: “We are benefiting from a great investment in the town.

“We’re hoping for 100,000 to go on the wheel by the time it closes in October.”

The wheel was approved in a heated Worthing council meeting in March, in which some residents worried about their privacy.

The new wheel is as tall as nine double-decker buses and almost three times higher than any nearby building.

Eight lorries transported it to the seafront from Holland.