FIVE men who mysteriously drowned at a packed beach yesterday are thought to be a group of Sri Lankan pals who had come down from London for the day.
Three victims, in their 20s, were pulled ashore at Camber Sands, East Sussex. Two were found later.
RNLI confirm five bodies have been pulled from the sea at Camber Sands
One man has been named locally as Nitharsan Ravi, from south-east London – his friends are thought to be Kobi Nathan, Ken Nathan and Kuru Anna.
The full name of the fifth victim is not yet known. The men are believed to be from the Tamil community in Greenwich, south-east London.
Nitharsan’s cousin said: “Yea we think it’s him. He hasn’t been formally identified yet – we’re still waiting for that – but the police have contacted us and we think it’s him.
“We’re not really sure about anything at the moment. We literally just found out today.
“We don’t know anything for definite yet.”
Friends began paying tribute to the victims today, with Jackson Bosco sharing an emotional message to Nitharsan on Facebook.
He said: “Can’t believe to hear the news you were one of the boys at #CamberSands.
“You were truly a good person with a good heart. You are going to be missed on this earth.
“Condolences and prayers to the family at this time.”
Nitharsan’s and Kobi’s Facebook pages say they studied at the University of Brighton. All three Facebook pages say the men are from Sri Lanka and live in Greenwich.
Earlier reports said the three men were “fully-clothed” – but police have since confirmed all five victims were dressed for the beach.
Police have now identified the men and believe they were all friends who came to the beach from London for the day.
Chief Superintendent Di Roskilly said: “We believe we now know who the men are and that they came to the beach together for the day.
“We believe they are all in their late teens and early 20s and come from the Greater London area.
“These men were not fully clothed when they were pulled from the sea but wearing clothes appropriate for being at the beach for the day.
“We have no further reports of anyone else missing from Camber and there are no on-going searches related to this incident.
“This has been an incredibly tragic incident and we are offering their next of kin support at this difficult time and our thoughts are with them.”
Witness reports had earlier suggested the men were “fully-clothed” and may have been migrants – which police deny.
The Home Office also confirmed the border force was not involved in last night’s investigation.
The men were hauled on to a packed beach by the public and lifeguards.
The grim sight was witnessed by families who had been enjoying the hottest day of the year.
An air ambulance and rescue helicopter were scrambled to Camber Sands, East Sussex, but the men died despite efforts to resuscitate them.
Five men have been found dead at Camber Sands beach in Sussex
Air ambulance lands as three swimmers pulled from the sea at Camber Sands in East SussexJust hours later two more bodies were recovered and last night a search was under way for a reported sixth body. This has since been called off.
The tragedy was shrouded in mystery yesterday as police worked to establish the victims’ identities and where they were from.
One theory was that they drowned after being dragged out to sea by a riptide, which has caused deaths there in the past.
But the beach has relatively shallow water and was said to be calm yesterday afternoon.
Witnesses said the first three men were fully clothed and did not appear to have any family or friends on the beach with them.
It led to speculation the victims could be illegal immigrants.
But a Sussex Police source insisted: “We’ve been advised that there is currently nothing to suggest the men were migrants.”
They later added all three men were dressed “appropriately for the beach”.
Another theory was the men had been injured in a jellyfish attack – but Sussex Police confirmed the incident was “in no way jellyfish related”.
A number of people have commented on the lack of lifeguards at the popular tourist beach.
One beach-goer said police told her to stay out of the sea due to a rip tide while another, who declined to be named, said: “We noticed when we came here that there were no lifeguards. We had kids here and we were worried about them.”
He said he could not understand how the men had run into difficulties as the sea appeared calm.
“The sea is very shallow for quite a long way,” he said. “It seems so strange how they got into trouble. There was no waves and no wind.”
Rob Manning, who works at Bavarian Beach Grill, saw one if the men pulled from the water.
He said: “I saw them take one of them back up on the pick up and they were giving him CPR.
“I heard it was a group of men who got into trouble. How could five men get in trouble? It was a lovely day there wasn’t a ripple in the sea.
“If it was a red flag day and the sea was rough you could see how they got into trouble, but the sea was perfect. It’s really strange.”
A spokesman for Rother District Council said that, despite there being no lifeguards, there are summer patrols to advise people of potential dangers, reunite lost children with their families and deal with incidents on the beach.
“While it’s very upsetting to see two similar, tragic incidents this summer, over the years these kind of incidents are extremely rare and on a fine day around 25,000 people use the beach safely,” he said.
“Although it’s too early to draw any conclusions from this latest incident, in recent years we have seen a change in the make-up of visitors to Camber, including more people from outside the area who are not familiar with the sea and the dangers it can pose.”
Emergency crews were called to the scene shortly after 2pm following reports that one man was in difficulty in the sea.
Rita Wilcox, 61, from Sidcup, Kent, who was on the beach with husband Alan and two grandchildren, said: “We don’t know if the men were washed up or caught in a riptide.”
Another witness said: “They had all their clothes on — shorts and T-shirts.
“We found it quite odd because we didn’t see any family or anything for them on the beach.”
Mum-of-two Kelly Thisleton, 40, also from Sidcup, said: “We saw someone pulling a young black guy out of the water. All the beach guards rushed down.
“It was three black gentlemen in their late 20s in the end.”
A helicopter was seen hovering above the coastline at 10pm after the other two bodies were found.
Last night Richard Tollett, lifeboat operations manager at Rye Harbour, said: “As the tide has receded it has left a couple more bodies on the beach in the sand at Camber.
“A member of the public found them and reported another one in the water so we have got two lifeboats and a helicopter searching the area.”
The two bodies discovered at low tide at 8pm were both young males.
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Chief Superintendent Di Roskilly said: “This has been an incredibly tragic situation. At this stage we are doing all we can to establish who the men are and to identify next of kin.
“We are continuing to work with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Royal National Lifeboat Institute, South East Coast Ambulance and Rother District Council to establish what has happened.”
He added: “This has been a very traumatic for those who were on the beach.”
The beach was earlier cleared by officers trying to find any items that may have belonged to the casualties.
Sun-lovers had been relaxing on a day when the temperature peaked at 33.8°C in Cavendish, Suffolk.
Paula Day, 49, from the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, said: “The first thing we saw was a helicopter flying really low. Then later we saw someone being resuscitated.
Police were telling everyone to get out of the sea because of a riptide.
“It was heaving with people here. We have been coming here for years and we have never seen anything like this. The sea was fine.”
Before the death toll was updated, a statement from Rye Harbour lifeboat station said: “Three males, unresponsive, had been dragged from the water at Camber.
“The lifeboat carried out a comprehensive search from Rye Harbour to the Suttons at Camber with nothing found.”
“Camber is safe; it’s not massively deep. But you do find people go in even if they can’t swim and then get into difficulty. It’s not a pool with steps, which doesn’t have a current. The beach is a different entity all together.
Paul Osborne, ward member for Eastern Rother, which covers Camber, for Rother District Council, said this morning (Thurs) he was waiting to hear the full details about yesterday’s tragic incident, in which five men lost their lives.
He said: “We don’t have a lot of information at the moment about what happened. We’re awaiting an update.
“It’s odd that no one seemed to be reported missing. We’re trying to establish if the people are from the same group. At the moment we just don’t know.
“But I suppose until the police know what happened, they don’t want people speculating, and until they know everything, they can’t release it.”
He added: “Camber is safe; it’s not massively deep. But you do find people go in even if they can’t swim and then get into difficulty. It’s not a pool with steps, which doesn’t have a current. The beach is a different entity all together.
“Personally I wouldn’t go into the sea, and I can swim. I wouldn’t risk it.”
Last month Brazilian tourist Gustavo Silva Da Cruz, 19, was found dead after being swept out on the same beach.
Since Friday, seven other people have lost their lives around the coastline following stormy conditions.