A Mid-Autumn Festival celebration turned to tragedy at Shek O Beach yesterday when an 18-year-old youth was swept away by a wave in the early morning and was still missing last night - most likely the 10th drowning this year.
The Form Three evening school pupil, who went to the beach with a group of friends on Saturday and partied through the night, had been drinking when he entered the water at 7.30am with a friend.
The teenager, who could not swim, clung to the floats on the shark net and worked his way along them until he was about 15 metres from shore. But a big wave suddenly swept him off the net and out to sea.
The friend swam back to shore and raised the alarm with the group. As lifeguards did not begin their shift until 9am, they called police.
'We lost him. We failed to help him. It's been an hour already,' the friend who entered the sea with the victim told reporters on the beach.
The mother of the missing teenager, whose surname is Lo, was taken to Eastern Hospital in shock after rushing to the beach to find out what had happened to her son.
Divers, marine police and a Government Flying Service helicopter conducted a fruitless search for Lo, and the search was continuing last night.
The Observatory issued a forecast at 4.15pm on Saturday warning of strong swells, and red flags were raised at Shek O Beach and nearby Big Wave Bay Beach at 8.45am yesterday, 15 minutes before the official opening of the beaches, warning beach-goers not to enter the water. Warnings were also broadcast.
In other incidents yesterday, a 22-year-old man was rescued by a swimmer after getting into difficulty while swimming at Tai Wan, Sai Kung, at about 3.50pm. He was taken to Eastern Hospital.
And a fisherman who fell into the water off Tung Lung Chau, Sai Kung, at about 11am and was swept away from the shore was rescued by marine police officers, who dived in to save him. A passer-by had alerted them when he saw the man fall in. The fisherman was admitted to Eastern Hospital.
Yesterday's probable drowning comes just a week after Polytechnic University student Cheung Tsz-him, 18, was swept out to sea with three friends at Tai Long Sai Wan, Sai Kung. His body was found the next day.
There has been a spate of drownings this summer, which started on September 6 when a 59-year-old man drowned while rock fishing on a remote island off Sai Kung.