THE Coastguard helicopter has been called to assist in a search operation after an empty dinghy with a shopping trolley inside was found on the shore.

Crews began scouring the sea off Lancing at about 4pm after the vessel was discovered.

The Coastguard helicopter could be seen flying above the water while, on shore, witnesses reported seeing a coastal warden on a quadbike scanning the sea with a pair of binoculars.

The Argus:

A Maritime and Coastguard Agency spokeswoman said: "HM Coastguard received a report of a inflatable dinghy found drifting off Lancing shortly before 1.30pm today.

"No one was onboard the dinghy but personal items including a mobile phone and clothing were located inside.

"RNLI lifeboats from Shoreham and Brighton and the search and rescue helicopter from Lee-on-the-Solent are conducting a search of the area.

The Argus:

"Sussex Police are also assisting with the incident to try and locate the owner.

"If you have any information please contact HM Coastguard on 023 92552100 quoting incident 24376."

With the search continuing, Sussex Police Chief Constable Jo Shiner urged people visiting the county's beaches to "mark your inflatable, rigid stand-up paddleboard or other sea-going vessel with your name and phone number so that we can try and trace you when these circumstances occur".