THE fundraising page of missing English Channel swimmer Iain Hughes, from Dudley, has topped its £21,000 target less than 24-hours after news broke that search efforts had been called off.

Iain, a firefighter with West Midlands Fire Service, had been attempting the arduous challenge to raise money for the British Heart Foundation, The Fire Fighters Charity and Midlands Air Ambulance Charity.

The 42-year-old crew manager, based at Wednesbury Fire Station with the fire service’s Technical Rescue Unit, began his solo swim on the morning of Tuesday June 20, accompanied by a support boat, but later that day news spread that he had been missing for several hours.

Despite a major search effort, involving French and Belgian military helicopters and navy and police patrol boats, he could not be found and authorities confirmed late last night that the search for the father-of-two had ended.

The news has sent shockwaves across West Midlands Fire Service, with chief fire officer Wayne Brown describing Iain’s disappearance as “unspeakably sad”.

Well-wishers have been holding the missing firefighter and his family in their thoughts and prayers and donations to his online fundraising page have poured in and it has now topped its £21,000 target.

Iain joined West Midlands Fire Service in 1999, aged just 19, and he has worked at stations across the region including Wednesbury, Billesley, Tipton, Wolverhampton, Tettenhall, Bilston, Brierley Hill and Stourbridge.

He was also a popular figure at Stourbridge Rugby Club where he had recently been fitness coaching the Under 12’s team, getting players prepared for the upcoming season.

A spokesperson for the club said Iain’s disappearance had left members “devastated”.

A statement on the club’s website described him as a “true club person” and it said: “We know Iain has trained long and hard for this challenge with pure dedication and determination.

“His fitness is at a level some of us could only dream about, which makes this tragic news even harder to comprehend.

“A man who has devoted his life to helping others, described as kind, sincere, inspirational and a ‘top man’.

“Our thoughts go out to Iain’s family, his West Midlands Fire Service family and of course his rugby family here at Stourbridge Rugby.”

The club said the shock news has left members feeling “numb and helpless” and a call was made to donate to Iain’s JustGiving page to help make sure his fundraising target is reached.