(see attached photo below)
Thomas Lonergan, 34
Eileen Lonergan, 28
Missing at the Great Barrier Reefhttp://forums.lgf.com/showthread.php?t=104
The following article is a copy and paste from the Lionsgate forums. This article was pasted to those forums without a link to the originating story. The article was posted on Aug 28, 2004 and I have no idea what date the following article was published. I'm trying to chase it up.
The Loss of Two Divers at Sea - Great Barrier Reef
© Michael McFadyen - Devilfish Diving Services
As most people would be aware, in January 1998, two American divers disappeared from a dive boat when diving the Great Barrier Reef in Northern Queensland, Australia. The following is a reconstruction of the incident from media reports of the Coroner's Inquest conducted in Cairns, North Queensland, from 7 September 1998.
On 25 January 1998, Thomas Lonergan, 34, and his wife Eileen, 28, departed their Cairns backpackers' hostel in a BTS Bus Company bus for the short trip to Port Douglas where they were booked in a dive charter boat, Outer Edge. The Lonergans were from Baton Rouge in Louisiana and had just completed a tour of duty as Peace Corp volunteers in the South Pacific. As part of a three month holiday before returning to the USA, Mr and Mrs Lonergan were doing some diving on the Great Barrier Reef.
The Lonergans arrived at Port Douglas and boarded the Outer Edge, a boat of about 12 metres and licensed to carry at least 26 passengers. On Sunday 25 January, the boat was under the command of the owner, Geoffrey Ian "Jack" Nairn. The Outer Edge headed out with 26 passengers to St Crispin Reef which was about 38 nautical miles north-east from Port Douglas. The Lonergans did two dives on the reef in this area and at about 3 pm, a third dive was started at a dive site called Fish City.
The Lonergans advised a diving instructor employed on the Outer Edge, Ms Katherine Traverso, that they would "go off and do their own thing" (quote from Mr Richard Triggs of Cairns, a diver on the trip - Note Mr Triggs reported that Outer Edge was the best operator he had seen, not really much of a recommendation as he had only done 40 dives). This action by the Lonergans is nothing unusual as most experienced divers would know but of which some media made adverse comments soon after the incident.
The Lonergans' dive details were not entered into the boat's divermaster's log book at the end of the dive. See comments at trial.
It is alleged that a head count was conducted and 26 passengers counted. As far as can be ascertained, the Outer Edge then departed St Crispin Reef without waiting for the Lonergans to return to the boat. Mr Triggs told the Inquest that as far as he recalls, there was no head count done when the Outer Edge left the dive site. At the Coroner's Inquest, Mr Christopher Coxon, Acting Senior Inspector, Department of Employment, Training and Industrial Relations, Queensland, reported that the Lonergans would have had to swim six kilometres to the nearest refuge, a pontoon moored at Agincourt Reef. This would have been across a probable strong current (this is contrary to comments made in the media shortly after the Lonergans disappeared about the distance to the pontoon).
The Outer Edge then returned to Port Douglas. When the boat had docked, the crew apparently noticed that there was at least one bag left behind by the passengers but they do not appear to have investigated this further and simply moved the bag to another location on the boat. In fact there were two bags. One was a plastic bag containing the Lonergans' dry clothes and Mr Lonergan's glasses. In addition, there was a nearly empty dive bag. In addition, the boat was missing two tanks and two weight belts!
Soon after, the bus from BTS arrived to take the Lonergans (and maybe some other divers) back to their accommodation. The driver, Norman Stigant, went to the BTS office at about 5.30 to 6.00 pm and reported to the owner of BTS, Ms Corinne Ann Scharenguivel that the Lonergans were not waiting for him when he arrived at the wharf. He reported that he looked for the Americans in the ice cream parlour, the coffee shops, the hotel as well as other areas but he could not find them. There were also two pairs of shoes belongong to the Lonergans that were not collected from the wharf (or dive shop) when the boat returned.
Ms Scharenguivel reported that she then phoned Outer Edge dive charters and spoke to a person that she believed was the owner, Mr Nairn. Ms Scharenguivel reported that she could not remember the exact content of the conversation but that "All I can say is the response I got back was it was OK for our driver to leave [without them]".
On Monday 26 January 1998, two weight belts were discovered at St Crispin Reef by a diver on the Outer Edge when they returned to the same dive site with different divers. This was reported to Mr Nairn. It is possible/probable that these were the Lonergans' belts dropped by them once the discovered the boat had left them behind.
Late on Tuesday 27 January 1998, more than 48 hours after the Outer Edge returned to Port Douglas, the crew of the boat noticed a dive bag on the boat when they returned to the wharf after that day's diving. The bag was opened and "I looked in the bag and thought, Jesus Christ, it's got a wallet and papers in it" Mr Nairn was tape recorded by Police as saying. He apparently said that he recognised a shirt in the bag as being one worn by Mr Lonergan on the day he dived. it would appear that Mr Nairn then called the Police, 51 hours after the Lonergans disappeared.
On 28 January 1998 a search by 17 aircraft, helicopters and boats, Police, Navy and civilian divers began. No trace of the Lonergans was found despite the search continuing for many days.
On 5 February 1998, Mr Lonergan's BCD was found near Indian Heads, 10 kilometres north of Cooktown, about 105 km north of Port Douglas. There was no tank attached.
Some time later Mrs Lonergan's green and grey wetsuit was found washed ashore. It had tears in the buttocks area, presumed to have been caused by a shark. I believe that this was also in the area near where the BCD ended up. I believe that Mrs Lonergan's BCD also ended up in the same area. Even later on, a slate was found on a beach and this was apparently confirmed as being the Lonergans from things written on it (See Court Trial below).
Other evidence given at the Coroner's Inquest included:
# The fact that Outer Edge had previously left dive sites without carrying out a head count to ensure that all divers were back on board the boat (reported by Mr Christopher Coxon, Acting Senior Inspector, Department of Employment, Training and Industrial Relations, Queensland).
# World renowned Australian diver, Ben Cropp, with 48 years diving experience, more than 10,000 logged dives, said that "My personal feeling is they were taken by a tiger [shark] in the first 24 to 48 hours" (see comment above about Mrs Lonergan's wetsuit).
So what happened?
# Well, there is no doubt that the Lonergans were left behind at St Crispin Reef.
# There is no doubt that the Outer Edge returned to Port Douglas without realising that the Lonergans were missing.
# There is also no doubt that the Lonergans were not missed by the owner and crew, even though they left behind all their clothes in a bag, their shoes were on the wharf, the dive boat had to have been missing two scuba tanks and weight belts and the bus owner had told the owner of Outer Edge that the Lonergans were missing.
# My guess is that the Lonergans did a longer dive than the others on the trip or they ended up down current from the boat and could not attract the attention of the crew.
# The crew did not do a proper head count and left.
# The Lonergans surfaced and seeing that the boat was heading away or already gone, they dropped their weight belts.
# The Lonergans probably would not have been able to see the day platform (where some boats tie up to drop off snorkellers) which is allegedly three to six kilometres away from the dive site (various reports I read contradicted each other).
# This platform was supposed to be up current so even if they could see it, they would have been unlikely to have been able to swim to it.
# Therefore the only option would have been to go with the current and perhaps slowing swimming towards the west at the same time.
# They would have not dropped their tanks straight away as they probably expected the boat to return in a few minutes or at the most, 30 minutes once the crew realised they were two divers short.
# When the boat did not return, probably when it started to get dark, I think that they then dropped their scuba tanks (if aluminium, they would have floated if empty and probably ended up on the beach as well). Perhaps the tanks were still fairly full and so sank (more likely then that they ended up down current and surfaced early).
# The Lonergans, quite rightly, probably expected that a rescue ship or helicopter would have been out looking for them just after dark, as soon as the crew returned to shore and realised they were missing.
# At the worst, they may have thought that the rescue may not have started till dawn.
# As the next day passed, they would have become very dehydrated due to the heat. They may have become delerious.
# I think they may have decided to ditch their BCDs at this time, either in a weakened mental state of mind or in attempt to swim to shore (a BCD would severely restrict swimming attempts due to increased friction). Remember, they had wetsuits on which would have given floatation.
# They then died, probably due to dehyrdration or simply falling asleep and drowning.
# A shark or sharks may have attacked them, causing the damage to Mrs Lonergan's wetsuit, mauling her so badly that she no longer floated and totally taking Mr Lonergan.