A man died today when his car careered 100ft over a cliff at a popular seaside resort.
The driver is thought to have turned off a coastal road and crossed a grassy field before heading for the edge in a Nissan Micra.
The white hatchback plunged headlong onto rocks just above the water line at Newquay, Cornwall, killing the lone occupant.
The engine was still running when rescuers reached the scene shortly after 7.30am but the driver was declared dead.
One eyewitness said he was a ‘young man’ and it is understood he was a high-risk missing person.
His body was left dangling from the wrecked car which fell close to a lifeboat slipway and a popular series of caves known as the Tea Caverns.
RNLI lifeboats, coastguard teams, a rescue helicopter and four fire engines were all scrambled to the scene.
Locals suggested the man would have had to deliberately drive through a pay and display car park and turn off a path to reach the cliff.
Police confirmed suicide was a line of enquiry but said that had not ruled out a mechanical failure or some sort of medical episode behind the wheel.
Russell Sinkevicius, 51, was heading out of Newquay harbour for an early morning paddle in his canoe when he spotted the car around 7am.
He approached it thinking it was empty and but saw a ‘young lad’ hanging from the passenger window as he got closer.
He said: “With the weather like it is I like to try to go kayaking before work so I was coming out of the harbour and around the headland when I saw the car in the distance at the bottom of the cliff.
“I thought it must have gone down the night before so I went over to take a photo.
“The next thing I get over to the car and there’s a young lad hanging out the passenger side window.
“The air con sounded like it was still running and the windscreen wipers were going.
“I shouted to him to try and get a response but there was nothing so I dialled 999 straight away.
“The emergency services arrived very quickly, in about 10 minutes.
“He looked like he had a lot of facial injuries and the structure of the car was really messed up.”
Onlooker Karl Paris, 20, from St Austell in Cornwall, said he doubted the driver could have accidentally reached the cliff.
He said: “It is obviously a huge drop, you can see that, I think he must have driven off road and accelerated off the cliff. I doubt it was an accident.
“I have no idea who the person in the car was, I didn’t get to see him, all I did see was the body bag being taken away on a lifeboat.
“Seeing that really was quite shocking.”
Matt Pavitt, HM Coastguard regional operations manager for North Cornwall said rescuers responded at 7:30am after receiving numerous 999 calls.
He said: “These calls also went to colleagues at fire and rescue, Newquay lifeboats, coastguard units from Padstow and Newquay, a rescue helicopter from RNAS Culdrose along with ambulance and police units attending the scene.
“We very quickly managed to get someone down to the vehicle using our rope rescue equipment and established the fact that the person in the vehicle was deceased.
“From that point onwards we have been assisting our colleagues at the police with a search and recovery operation.”
Devon and Cornwall Police said: “This was an isolated incident and there doesn’t appear to be any suspicious circumstances at this time.
“No other vehicles were involved and there were no other casualties.
“Officers are now investigating what caused this incident and at this time we do not know whether there was a medical episode, a mechanical failure of some kind or if this was a deliberate act by the driver.
“We must keep an open mind and carry out a thorough investigation.”