Five men who died at Camber Sands beach on Wednesday were not fully clothed when they were found, police have stated, and had travelled to the beach together from London.
Sussex Police on Thursday said they “believe” they now know who the men are and that they came to the beach together, and were from the Greater London area.
Chief Superintendent Di Roskilly said: “We believe they are all in their late teens and early 20s and come from the Greater London area.
“These men were not fully clothed when they were pulled from the sea but wearing clothes appropriate for being at the beach for the day.”
It has been reported that the men were a group of Sri Lankan friends on a day trip from London, but police have not confirmed that.
Roskilly said police had “no further reports” that anyone was missing from Camber Sands. Initially, emergency services had been searching for a sixth person.
“This has been an incredibly tragic incident and we are offering their next of kin support at this difficult time and our thoughts are with them,” he added.
Several media reports suggested today that the first three men recovered were fully clothed, and that two further victims, were also wearing shorts and t-shirts when their bodies were discovered.
MailOnline said witnesses had said the first three victims were “black or Asian” and did appear to have any family or friends with them. It further reported that those accounts had “led to speculation that the victims could be illegal immigrants”.
However, the website went on to quote a police source as saying “there is currently nothing to suggest the men were migrants”.
Emergency services were called to the beach, near Rye, East Sussex, around 2.10pm with reports that a person was “in the sea”. While at the scene another person was seen in difficulty at 2.20pm and 15 minutes later a third person was rescued.
Despite attempts to save them, Sussex Police said that “the three men sadly died”. Eyewitness accounts said CPR was performed on the men after they were pulled from the sea.
Two more bodies were found around 8pm as the tide receded - one on the beach and the other in the water - and the Royal National Lifeboat Institute and Coastguard were on Tuesday night combing the sea and shoreline for another person thought to have been spotted in the sea.
Chief Superintendent Di Roskilly said on Tuesday: “This has been an incredibly tragic situation. At this stage we are doing all we can to establish who the men are and to identify next of kin.
“We are continuing to work with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Royal National Lifeboat Institute, South East Coast Ambulance and Rother District Council to establish what has happened.”
Eyewitness Natalja Taylor told The BBC the police drove on to the beach and spoke through a loudspeaker, telling people to stay out of the water. They also cordoned off part of the beach to keep people from entering the water.
She said: “It’s pretty scary. I’m not sure how it happened. We decided not to go into the sea after seeing warning signs about some kind of fish.
“It wasn’t particularly windy down there, it was just a hot, sunny beach day.”
The Camber Sands deaths, on the hottest day of the year, bring the death toll to 12 in less than a week as people head for the coast at the tail end of the school holidays.
Two-year-old Mckayla Bruynius died at Bristol Children’s Hospital on Tuesday night after she was caught by a large wave at Fistral beach in Newquay, Cornwall, on Friday. Her father, Rudy Bruynius, was also killed after getting into trouble as 13ft waves lashed the coast amid strong winds and rain.
A mother and son died on Saturday after a rescue operation at Aberdeen beach, while a windsurfer in his 60s died in a Colchester hospital after being rescued off the coast of West Mersea, Essex.
On Sunday a woman in her 30s died after getting into difficulties while swimming off Jersey, before a man died despite the efforts of medics after getting stuck in a rip current at Sandbanks beach in Poole, Dorset.
People took to the beaches across the UK on Wednesday as thermometers on recorded the hottest day of the year, with health officials warning people to take extra care of themselves and vulnerable friends in the blistering temperatures.
Temperatures hit 33.9C (93F) at Gravesend in Kent, topping the 33.5C (92.3F) recorded at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire on July 19.
With more people flocking to the UK’s beaches as a mini-heatwave hits the country, the RNLI has urged seaside visitors to take care and respect the water.
A spokeswoman said: “The sea may look appealing, and the RNLI would encourage people to use it, but do so safely - it can be dangerously unpredictable.
“Please visit lifeguarded beaches and swim between the red and yellow flags - the safe swim zone and the area watched by lifeguards.
“RNLI lifeguards are always happy to answer any questions or advise of any risks, including where any rip currents may be, which can catch out even the most experienced swimmers.”
The new high for 2016 spurred bookies to slash odds on it being the hottest summer on record, with Coral offering 2/1.
The Met Office issued a level three heatwave action alert for the South East and eastern England - triggered when threshold temperatures are reached for one day and the following night.
The alert means there is a 90% chance the maximum threshold temperature for the region - 30C (86F) in the East, and 31C (87.8F) in the South East - will also be met the following day.
A level two alert has been issued for the East Midlands, meaning there is a 60% chance the maximum threshold temperature of 30C will be met.
Emma Sharples, a Met Office meteorologist, said the hot weather was down to a combination of strong sunshine and extra warmth being pushed northwards from the continent.
But there will be a respite from the heat in the coming days as temperatures fall a little, with some cloud and rain bringing fresher conditions.
Explaining the heatwave, Sharples said: “We are drawing on the continental flow from France and Spain, where they have been having equally high and higher temperatures as we have seen today.
“As we go through the next couple of days that changes subtly and we will see some cloud and showery rain around, which will cool things off.”
Thursday will still be quite warm in the South East, with temperatures reaching the mid-20s, while across the rest of the country thermometers will register around the low 20s.
The odds suggest by the time this month is out, it will have been the hottest August in history in the UK"
Showers overnight will push northwards from the south coast, and while rain will only be sporadic it could be heavy in localised areas.
The weekend will see a “mixed bag”, Sharples said, with cloud and rain coming in from the South West on Saturday, before turning brighter and clearer on Sunday.
Bank Holiday Monday is expected to be the best day of the long weekend, with sunny spells and temperatures reaching the mid-20s, along with the odd isolated shower.
Bookmaker Coral is offering odds-on at 1/2 that August will be the hottest ever, and has it at 5/2 that the record high temperature of 37.5C (99.5F) is broken this year.
Coral’s John Hill said: “The odds suggest by the time this month is out, it will have been the hottest August in history in the UK, while the gamble behind this summer being the hottest on record is showing no sign of stopping, leaving bookmakers sweating over a big pay-out.”