Police have launched a major search operation along the River Wear after a student went missing after a night out.

Luke Pearce, a first-year engineering student at Durham University, was last seen at about 1:30am on Sunday 11 May walking along the river bank away from the city centre.

The 19-year-old had been drinking with friends in a bar on Saturday night. A member of staff reported him missing on Sunday after students expressed concern that he had not been seen.

The police have classed his disappearance, which friends have said is entirely out of character, as "high-risk". Teams from Teesdale and Weardale Search and Rescue are now combing the area and the police's air support unit has also conducted a search.

Chief Inspector Andy Huddleston said: "We are very concerned for Luke as this is completely out of character and there has been no trace of him since early hours of Sunday morning. He hasn’t responded to attempts to contact him and his phone has not been traced.

"If anyone has seen him or a young man matching his description in Durham on Saturday night, contact us as soon as possible on 101."

Mr Pearce, who is based at St Cuthbert's college, is described as 6ft 2ins tall with short, ginger hair. He was wearing a blue polo shirt, blue jeans and white trainers.

His mother, Kate Pearce, told the Evening Standard the family was deeply upset by his disappearance. She said: "As you can imagine it’s just dreadful, that’s all I have to say really."

Professor Graham Towl, the pro-vice chancellor and deputy warden at Durham University, said: "We are very concerned to hear Luke Pearce has been reported missing and we are liaising with police to trace him."

Mr Pearce's disappearance comes just a month after calls for the riverside area to be made safer following the death of Sope Peters, a 20-year-old economics student. Mr Peters was found in the River Wear five weeks after he disappeared after a night out. At the inquest into his death, the coroner raised concerns about steep steps and low walls near the river.