`Marie Celeste' mystery of missing pilot

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The Independent Online
Police were yesterday investigating the disappearance of a man after his deserted yacht was discovered beached on the south coast.

A major air and sea search was called off after no trace could be found of Norman Harriss, 46, an airline pilot, whose 35ft yacht Jetstream Flyer was discovered on mudflats with her engine still running. The boat's tender dinghy was missing from her stern and coastguards believe that Mr Harriss, a father-of-two, could have rowed to safety.

The alarm was raised after the yacht was spotted on Thursday on the shore of Southampton Water, Hampshire, near the entrance of Ashlet Creek.

British Airways pilot Mr Harriss, of Tadworth, Surrey, had set off from Port Solent, near Portsmouth, earlier in the day, heading for a marina on the Hamble River, near Southampton.

Coastguard teams carried out a search on foot of the banks of the Solent near the Esso oil refinery jetty at Fawley, where Mr Harriss's yacht was discovered. But the hunt was scaled down after search teams failed to spot anything in the water or on the shore.

Last night it was learnt that Mr Harriss and his second wife had separated three weeks ago. A friend of Mr Harriss's said that the pilot was "very upset" about the failure of his second marriage.

Inspector Colin Wilbond, of Hampshire Police, said yesterday: "There have been no sightings of either the sailor or his dinghy.

"We are investigating two theories - one is that he has gone somewhere in his dinghy, the other is that he fell overboard into the sea for some reason."

A spokesman for Solent Coastguards said: "The search is being run down, almost terminated. It is now being treated as a missing-person inquiry."

A British Airways spokesman said tonight that Mr Harriss was a highly experienced senior captain who had joined the company in 1971. He said: "He has experience with various long-haul aircraft and flew DC10s. He would have captained journeys to such destinations as the United States, the Caribbean and Sri Lanka."

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