The death of a 17-year-old student who got into difficulty in the sea during a school trip has been described as a “tragic accident” by his college principal.

Emergency services received a call of concern for the teenager’s welfare in the water at a beach in West Wittering, near Chichester, at around 1pm on Tuesday.

The boy was part of a group from Uxbridge College in west London, who were visiting the area to celebrate the end of term.

A college spokesman said he got into difficulty in the sea and “tragically it was not possible to save them”.

He was airlifted to hospital where he was pronounced dead and his family have been informed, Sussex Police said.

The teenager was airlifted to hospitalThe teenager was airlifted to hospital (Image: Sussex News and Pictures)

Uxbridge College principal Dylan McTaggart said: “This was a tragic accident that has had a huge impact on everyone here. Our priority now is to look after all those affected.

“We have enlisted the help of qualified counsellors and will make sure that over the next days and weeks we have staff and professional support available to our community.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and we ask that you respect their privacy as they grieve the loss of a child.”

Detective Inspector Darren Taylor, of Sussex Police, said officers are investigating the incident to establish the full facts, supported by the Health and Safety Executive.

“This was an absolutely tragic incident and I would like to express my sincere condolences to the boy’s loved ones at this heartbreaking time,” he said.

“We are asking anyone who has any information that could help to contact us online or via 101, quoting Operation Redhill.”

Emergency services descended on the beachEmergency services descended on the beach (Image: Sussex News and Pictures)

A spokesman for the private West Wittering Estate said the boy died despite the best efforts of lifeguards and emergency services.

He said lifeguards on jet skis raced to save the boy at the beauty spot.

“We are deeply saddened to report that a 17-year-old boy drowned yesterday after getting into difficulty in the water," he said.

“Lifeguards deployed their equipment, including jet skis, to rush to the scene.

"Police and emergency services were there quickly with members of HM Coastguard, before the young man was transported by helicopter to hospital where he unfortunately later died.

"His next of kin has been notified and our thoughts are with the family during this difficult time."