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A straying Chinese lantern may have sparked a major lifeboat search off the north Norfolk coast.

Wells Lifeboat was launched just before 9.30pm last night (Saturday) after red flares were spotted out to sea off Salthouse, near Wells.

The sighting was confirmed by a wind farm support vessel and Sheringham Lifeboat was also launched to help in the search.

Both volunteer crews spent more than two hours at sea, but returned back to base after a fruitless search.

John Mitchell, spokesman for Wells Lifeboat, said the Coastguard had received a number of calls saying Chinese lanterns had been seen drifting out to sea from the direction of Wells.


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'The prevailing wind was in the right direction, so we can only assume it was Chinese lanterns,' Mr Mitchell said. 'They can be a hazard as they can be misconstrued as distress flares.'

There was also heavy aircraft activity in the area at the time, so it is still not certain what the red lights were.

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The Sheringham Lifeboat continued searching as it returned to base at 11.35pm and was ready for service again at 11.45pm.

It was 1am before the Wells Lifeboat was re-fuelled, re-housed and ready for action again.

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