Missing surfer Stuart's family say 'thank you' for support as search continues
Australian police have issued a statement on behalf of the family of missing Irish surfer Stuart Butler.
Police and volunteers have been scouring the coast of Byron Bay in Australia since Mr Butler went missing in the surf on Saturday.
The 20-year-old, from Santry, Dublin, got into difficulty while surfing off Cape Byron.
"We'd like to say a huge and heartfelt thank you on behalf of Stuart's family both here and back in Ireland for the support we have received from the local community," a family spokesperson told The Northern Star newspaper.
"We are full of hope that he will be returned to us and ask all to keep him in their thoughts and prayers."
"We appreciate all of the efforts made to help find Stuart."
The family spokesperson thanked the local police in Byron Bay and Tweed Heads, the Queensland Police Helicopter, Surf Life Saving North Coast, Brunswick Volunteer Rescue Association and Australian Maritime Search Authority.
"We would also like to make special mention of Mojo Surf and to the Arts Factory for their continued support, and their efforts to make us comfortable, during this difficult time," the statement said.
The search off the coast of northern New South Wales was this week updated to a body recovery operation.
Police divers are expected to arrive in the area later this week to join the search when the sea conditions improve.
Stuart was joined by friends Levi Fahrenholtz (25) from Seattle in the US, and Mike Fuller (19) from England in the nearby popular backpacker and tourist resort town of Byron Bay.
The three men went out surfing together before getting caught in a rip and thrown against rocks.
Mike succeeded in getting to the rocks but Levi was swept out to sea, only to be rescued around the Cape.
Earlier this week, a police spokesperson said: "The man is listed as a missing person and we will continue to search for him."
"However, this is now a body recovery operation."
Foam surfboard fragments found on Monday during a search on the rocks belonged to one of the surviving surfers.
"We have been searching from Cosy Corner to Broken Head; Byron Bay to Brunswick Heads and from the North Wall at Brunswick Heads to Cudgen and Byron Marine Rescue have been maintaining an observation point from Cape Byron," the police spokesperson said.
He added that the National Parks and Wildlife Service had also been notified to be on the lookout for any sign of the missing surfer and his board.