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A couple left at sea on a diving trip could have been eaten by sharks

A couple left at sea on a diving trip could have been eaten by sharks

In January 1998, Thomas and Eileen Lonergan paid for a day diving trip to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. At the end of the tour, the ship’s crew made a mistake in checking the number of tourists returning on board and failed to notice the couple’s disappearance. And so the ship returned to port without them. The disappearance of the two people was not noticed until two days later. Half a year later, 120 kilometers from where they disappeared, their equipment was found. According to local fishermen, the couple were likely eaten by sharks. The film “On the High Seas” was made based on their story. Low budget independent film that received good reviews.

End of dive

Imagine that on one of the greatest adventures of your life, you will spend 40 to 50 minutes looking at the magnificent colorful fish and magnificent coral gardens of the crystal clear Coral Sea, beautifully lit by the tropical sun, on part of the Great Barrier Reef. . Then their dive computer starts beeping, signaling that the dive is over, and it’s time to return to the ship full of experiences, where they will tell each other for a long time what it was like to live this adventure.

The Coral Sea’s magnificent wildlife attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. This is where the Lonergan couple were lost at sea in 1998Source: Ocean Freedom

Imagine that according to the rules, they slowly rise to the surface, where they look around in the ecstasy of new experiences, and stare, because the sun shines in their eyes. They look for the boat in the calm waters and hope it is close enough, because then one gets imperceptibly tired while diving. They search for the ship with their eyes, but the more they turn around, the more it becomes true that the ship is nowhere to be found.

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They left you at sea and returned to port. You are left with the endless sea and desperate silence, except for the gentle lapping of the water.

That’s what happened to Tom and Eileen Lonergan on January 25, 1998, off St. Crispin Reef in the Coral Sea.

Diving tourism is good business

The main source of income in the region is tourism, and in this area, diving, whose popularity is growing, brings more and more income. According to data from the World Wildlife Fund, tourism on the Great Barrier Reef was around the end of the 1990s. It generated A$4 billion in revenue for the country’s economy, and around that time. It gave work to 50,000 people.

Divers and snorkelers near the tourist boat in the Coral SeaSource: below

The popularity of diving tourism was contributed to the fact that at that time several tourist boats were built, on which you could comfortably sail from Port Douglas to St. Crispin Reef, 60 kilometers away, and then return to the port in the afternoon. Thus, tourists did not have to plan and pay for a multi-day trip.

On their way home, they paid for a diving trip

Tom and Eileen Lonergan on a Pacific island. Their bodies were never foundSource: Brisbane Times

Tom and Eileen met at Louisiana State University. At the end of their studies in 1988, they got married. Eileen was diving at the time and quickly fell in love with the sport with her husband. Since then, they have often dived together. The man’s mother said the couple did everything together.

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They were never alone. We often laughed at the fact that whatever they did, they always did it in each other’s company.

In 1995, they joined the Peace Corps and taught as volunteers on several islands in the Pacific Ocean for 3 years. In 1998, they were flying home from Fiji, but before returning home, they paid for a diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef, the most famous and largest coral reef system in the world.

The tour boat the couple traveled on was called the Outer RimSource: Cairns Post

In Port Douglas, they were welcomed by a dive boat named “Outer Edge”. The captain, Geoffrey Nairn, took 24 people on board as well as them, then set off to reach the three sites on the reef for the day.

In some places, the ship stopped next to the moored rafts, and the tourists went into the water. The pair were last seen by sailors from the deck at the start of the third dive, when they jumped into the sea. Members of the diving group recalled seeing them swimming quietly in the shallow lake.

Divers in the Great Barrier ReefSource: Phoenix One

They started searching for them two days later

The Outer Edge sailed back to Port Douglas without the pair after the third final dive of the day. The next day, he brought divers to St. Crispin Reef again, to the same locations, but since they did not know at the time that two people were missing, they did not search for them. The only strange thing is that one of the tourists found lead weights at the bottom of the sea, which are the same weights that divers use to dive into the sea. He gave the weights to the employees. No explanation was found for this at the time.

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Another day passed when a sailor noticed two backpacks in the corner of the deck. It turns out that no one applied for the backpacks, although sooner or later passengers always return to the port if they leave their luggage there. It can only mean one thing. The captain then realized that a terrible tragedy had occurred: the owners of the packages had not come forward because they had forgotten them at sea.

The police immediately began a search. Ships, helicopters and planes were also used to search for the couple.

At first, even the rescuers were optimistic. The pair were doing well, and it was almost their last dive. It was over at three o’clock, so they didn’t have to start swimming in the dark to the moored rafts. At that time, everyone was sure that the Lonergans knew where they needed to go to get to the rafts, where the diving boat would likely arrive the next day.

The pair were diving at such a reef when the Outer Edge returned to port without them. Tourists can be seen diving in the waterSource: Ocean Freedom

However, it is almost impossible to see a distant object that is only about 100 meters long. It is one meter above sea level. The tourists were not professional divers, and no one in the group could remember afterwards where they should have looked for the rafts if they had forgotten them in the water.

The photo clearly shows that even a steamboat located 20-30 meters from the water is barely visible (to the left of the bow of the boat)Source: Zsolt Sasdi

On the other hand, captains familiar with the St. Crispin reef system said there are treacherous currents in the area, stronger than they appear, that can quickly sweep away those in the water. According to them, it is impossible to swim permanently against the currents, because one loses strength in seconds.

Police and rescue workers stopped searching after 3 days, and the couple was declared missing. However, even then, there were many who said that the Lonergan family may already be in their native United States and not even know that they are wanted. Others believe they may have drifted to an island where they could find fresh water and food, so now they are waiting for rescuers, they must continue their search.

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