A pensioner who set out to row across the Atlantic in a record-breaking attempt has returned home after a crew members was swept from their boat and lost at sea.

Roger Davies, originally from Cheam and now living in Surbiton, embarked on an expedition from the Canary Islands with a team of seven others rowers last month with the aim of journeying 3,000 miles to Barbados in the Caribbean on January 28.

But tragedy struck when crew member Michael Johnson, 21, was swept off his seat and into the sea by a “freak wave” hundreds of miles from land on February 14.

He has not been found and a rescue operation has been called off.

It is thought the force of the wave that hit Mr Johnson, a British-Zimbabwean, caused the safety line that attached him to the boat to snap.

The eight-man team, seven of whom were British, were hundreds of miles from the Cape Verde islands, the nearest point of land, at about 11.30pm when he was swept overboard.

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A map shows the route the team took across the Atlantic

Mr Davies, 68, of St Mark's Hill, said: "It was a freak wave. It was dark and you could not see anything and it crashed into the side of the boat and it took at least three of us off our seats.

"But when you get hit by a wave like that there is no time to switch off and stay put, you need to get back into your position and brace yourself for the next one.

The crew attempted to row towards Mr Johnson but the force of the wind and waves swept the crew further away from him.

As the team’s boat drifted they deployed a life raft as a sea anchor to slow their progress in the hope he would float towards them.

The crew also triggered an emergency beacon and contacted the UK Coastguard who worked alongside the Portuguese coastguard to send a request  to a cargo ship, which changed course to the Mr Johnson's last known location.

Two aircraft were also deployed, but almost two weeks later Mr Johnson is still declared missing at sea.

Mr Davies said: "I called for help, but the nearest boat was 120 miles away, so they would not reach us until daylight. That was the case for the aircraft too.

"I was the last to see Michael. He could have been 150 metres away, maybe 200 metres, I saw a tiny flash from his helmet as he was being carried by the waves.

"It was a very difficult time for all of us.

"You hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. You hope as well that he somehow survived, but the aircraft and the boat covered the area intensely and they ultimately decided to call off the search."

The team were attempting to be the first to cross the Atlantic in under 30 days in the boat, a lightweight ocean-rowing craft named the Toby Wallace in memory of one if its original crew members.

A statement on the website of Oceanus Rowing, the company that organised the trip, said: "It is with a profoundly heavy heart we have to announce one of our Rowboat Toby Wallace rowers is missing at sea.

"The area was searched throughout day until fading light forced an end to operations with no sign of Michael.

"At last light the remaining 7 crew of the Toby Wallace were transferred to the search ship and will be transferred to land when the ship next makes port.

"Both UK and Portuguese Coastguard have declared a termination of search operations, but Michael’s family are desperate for the search to continue and appeal to anyone who can help."

Mr Davies was using the expedition to raise money for the charity Action on Addiction.