Day trippers on an end-of-pier rollercoaster were left dangling inches from catastrophe when the ride shot over a missing piece of track.

The two-metre section of rail had been removed for routine maintenance and the white-knuckle ride taken out of service.

Bosses at Brighton Pier have called in inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive to investigate why the operator allowed a group of Christmas visitors to climb on board.

Eight workers from a London-based design firm were on the looping Turbo ride during an outing in Brighton.

The emergency brakes kicked in as the carriage hurtled towards the gap.

The wheels of the front carriage were left hanging over the edge.

Company director Richard Murray, of Barnes, London, was riding in the front seat.

He said: "It all happened so quickly and I can't quite believe that I'm alive today.

"We could so easily have been looking at multiple fatalities - you hear about this sort of thing all the time at fairgrounds.

"We were all enjoying a good day out and had already been on two other rides - Wild Mouse and the dodgems - which had gone smoothly.

"We were near the end of the Turbo ride when I suddenly realised I couldn't see the track ahead of me.

"For a split second, I thought that it was part of the thrill.

"The ride then jolted to a sudden halt as the emergency brake slammed on and we all wondered what was going on. I can't believe that no one was injured.

"It seemed like an eternity while they rescued us."

Pier staff used ladders to rescue the terrified passengers from their seats.

A spokesman for the pier said they would be looking into the matter.

He said: "I can confirm that there was an incident on a fairground ride on Wednesday at around 12.45pm involving a party of tourists.

"There were no casualties to report but we are taking the incident very seriously and, at present, are conducting a full and thorough investigation.

"As a matter of course, the Health and Safety Executive has been informed of this.

"Once the investigation has been carried out and conclusions have been reached, we will be in a better position to make a full statement."

Mr Murray said: "After our ordeal, we all went and had a stiff drink and ate fish and chips. Naturally we declined the kind offer of another free ride by means of compensation."