The whitebaiter swept out to sea at the Rakaia River mouth last night has been named by police.
Victor Edward Boraman, 21, from Ashburton, had been whitebaiting with two friends in rough conditions when he was swept out to sea at about 7pm.
The Westpac Rescue Helicopter from Christchurch and spotters on the shore located him after he had been in the water for about an hour.
As the helicopter was attempting a rescue Mr Boraman was hit by a large wave and sucked under the water.
Weather and sea conditions were very poor and made searching difficult.
Conditions were very rough with large waves breaking on the beach and washing over in the lagoon.
The search resumed at first light this morning, but an early helicopter search found no sign of him and hopes of finding him alive are fading. Land Search and Rescue volunteers from Rakaia are using quad bikes to search the south side of the river mouth, and volunteers from Ellesmere are searching the northern banks
Coastguard Canterbury Air Patrol will also conduct an air search along the shoreline using a fixed wing aircraft.
"It's not looking good at all,'' said police search and rescue co-ordinator Sergeant Ryan O'Rourke.
Mr Boraman's family had travelled to the south side of the Rakaia River mouth this morning.
His parents arrived shortly after 10am and they tearfully met their son's friends and police.
The death would be referred to the coroner in due course, police said.