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Porchlight International for the Missing & Unidentified > Missing Persons Cases 1998 > Lonergan, Tom & Eileen Jan 25, 1998


Title: Lonergan, Tom & Eileen Jan 25, 1998
Description: Australia (US divers missing in Aus)


Dianne - October 8, 2006 06:03 AM (GMT)
(see attached photo below)

Thomas Lonergan, 34
Eileen Lonergan, 28
Missing at the Great Barrier Reef

http://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.

Dianne - October 8, 2006 06:20 AM (GMT)
http://outside.away.com/outside/features/2...ysteries_2.html


Outside Magazine October 2003

The O Files: QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA
A Watery Grave

Eileen and Tom Lonergan went out for a day of scuba diving, and never came back - The story behind the movie Open Water.

By Jason Daley


IT'S A DIVERS WORST NIGHTMARE: Miles from shore, you surface to find your charter boat nowhere in sight. You call for help, but there's no response. There are no outcroppings to hold on to. You hope that someone realizes their mistake before it's too late.

This is what presumably happened to Eileen and Tom Lonergan on January 25, 1998, at St. Crispin's Reef, a popular dive site on the Great Barrier Reef, 25 miles off the coast of Queensland, Australia. The Lonergans, diving veterans from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had gone out with the Port Douglas, Queensland-based scuba boat Outer Edge. Stories vary, but at the end of the day, the crew did a head count and came up with only 24 of their 26 clients. Someone pointed out two young divers who had jumped in to swim off the bow, and the crew, assuming that they had missed them, adjusted the count to 26. With the swimmers on board, the Outer Edge headed back to port.

Two days later, Geoffrey Nairn, the boat's skipper, discovered Eileen and Tom's personal belongings in the Outer Edge's lost-property bin, including Tom's wallet, glasses, and clothes. Concerned, he called the owner of the Gone Walkabout Hostel, in Cairns, where the couple had been staying, to see if they had returned. They had not. A five-day search began, which turned up no trace of Eileen or Tom. After more than 48 hours in the ocean, the couple may have drowned, or been eaten by sharks. But as the chilling story broke, other theories emerged. One is that they committed suicide, or a murder-suicide took place. Journals in their hotel room hinted at personal troubles, but the couple were devout Catholics with good prospects. Tom, 33, and Eileen, 28, had just come off a three-year tour of duty with the Peace Corps in Tuvalu and Fiji and were en route to Hawaii, where they hoped to settle down.

Another scenario has the Lonergans using the dive boat as part of an elaborate hoax to fake their deaths. Jeanette Brenthall, owner of a bookshop in Port Douglas, believes the couple came into her store on January 27, two days after their dive trip. The pair was also reportedly sighted in a hotel in downtown Darwin. Reports of a boat less than a mile from St. Crispin's Reef seem to support theories that the couple was picked up. But the Lonergans' bank accounts were never touched, and no one ever collected on their insurance policies. A few weeks after they'd gone missing, some of their personal dive gear washed up on a beach 75 miles from the dive site. Six months later, a weathered dive slate—a device used to communicate underwater—with contact information for Eileen's father and the words PLEASE HELP US OR WE WILL DIE. JANUARY 26, 8:00 A.M., was found floating in the same vicinity as the gear.

In November 1999, Geoffrey Nairn was tried on manslaughter charges and acquitted; he believes the jury felt he shouldn't be blamed for a mistake made by the entire crew. His company, Outer Edge Dive, was tried by a civil court in Queensland, pled guilty to negligence, and was fined. Nairn, who closed down Outer Edge Dive shortly thereafter, believes that the Lonergans died on the reef. "It was a tragedy, and I'll never get over it," he told Outside. "The highest probability is that Tom and Eileen are dead."

Back in Baton Rouge, Eileen's father, John Hains, also believes that the couple drowned after being accidentally left behind. "The Australian dive industry wanted to prove that Tom and Eileen faked their deaths," he says of the disappearance theories. "But the survival rate of being in the ocean with no place to go is nil."

Dianne - October 8, 2006 06:48 AM (GMT)
Article below and photo in first post of this thread from the following link:

http://eileenlonergan.quickseek.com/

Tom and Eileen Lonergan
From QuickSeek Encyclopedia
(Redirected from Eileen Lonergan)

Tom and Eileen Lonergan were a married couple from Baton Rouge, Louisiana who were stranded January 25, 1998, while scuba diving with a group off Australia's Great Barrier Reef. While scuba diving, the group's boat accidentally abandoned them. The couple were left to fend for themselves in shark-infested waters and, although no trace of them was ever found, likely eventually died of dehydration, drowning, shark attack, or a combination thereof.

Several theories surrounding their disappearance still abound. At the time it was suggested that the Lonergans might have staged their disappearance. There was speculation in Australia that the theory of them staging their disappearance was concocted to take the heat off the diving company's owner. Most experts later dismissed this theory, as the Lonergan's bank accounts were never touched and their insurance policies were not claimed.

Another theory suggested that the pair committed suicide, or murder-suicide. This theory was bolstered by entries found in both victims' diaries. Excerpts from Tom Lonergan's personal diary were used to portray a deeply disturbed man who was looking for a 'quick and peaceful' death. Eileen's writings had expressed concern for her well being given Tom's 'death wish.' She had openly chosen to stay with Tom Lonergan, no matter the outcome.

However, the diary entries were taken out of context, according to Eileen's parents and family members. The family, Coroner Noel Nunan and the Port Douglas police claim that only pages that would validate the suicide theory were leaked to the press, whereas the majority of the diaries remains unread except by the Coroner, Port Douglas police and the Hains family. Additionally, the Coroner seemed to agree with that assessment when he dismissed suggestions that the Lonergans had either committed suicide or faked their own disappearance. Further, according to the Port Douglas police, Dive Queensland spokesman Col McKenzie was directly involved with and possibly responsible for spreading theories that the Lonergans had faked their deaths. To date, McKenzie insists the Lonergans are still alive. "Most marine experts, myself included, feel that the Lonergans are not dead," says Col McKenzie. [1]

It was not until January 27, 1998, that the pair were found to be missing after a bag containing their passports and belongings was found onboard the dive boat. A massive air and sea search took place over the following three days.

Although some of their gear was found washed up later miles away from where they were lost, their bodies were never found. This recovered gear included a diver's slate which read: "[Mo]nday Jan 26; 1998 08am. To anyone [who] can help us: We have been abandoned on A[gin]court Reef by MV Outer Edge 25 Jan 98 3pm. Please help us [come] to rescue us before we die. Help!!!"

The 2003 movie Open Water is loosely based on these events.


Dianne - October 8, 2006 06:52 AM (GMT)

Dianne - October 8, 2006 06:58 AM (GMT)
http://peacecorpsonline.org/messages/messa...67/2022843.html

One of the many newspaper articles that gave rise to the rumours that the Lonegrans faked their own deaths or that they decided to disappear into Australia.

A mystery resurfaces in deaths of Tuvalu RPCVs Tom and Eileen Lonergan

A mystery resurfaces
August 7, 2004

Caption: A vest that had belonged to Mr Lonergan, which was found by police washed up on a beach.

The fate of Tom and Eileen Lonergan, who vanished while diving on the Great Barrier Reef, is now a film, writes Daniel Foggo.

Their faces peer out gleefully from behind diving masks as the young couple watch vast shoals of colourful, fish parade before them. Trailed by streams of bubbles from their aqualungs, they explore the intricate coral reef before surfacing. They are looking forward to sharing the experience with the two-dozen other members of the group on the boat.

The boat, however, is not there. It has set off for the distant shore, leaving the couple floating on the surface, abandoned to their fate. Within hours, the sharks begin to circle and a grisly end appears certain.

This is the storyline for Open Water, which is due to be released in Australia in October. But overshadowing the harrowing images on screen is the fact that the script is based on the true story of Tom and Eileen Lonergan, an American couple who were stranded in the ocean off the Queensland coast six years ago after the operators of their tour boat miscounted the number of divers on board and set off without them. The boat's crew only realised its mistake two days later when they found some of the Lonergans' property on board. Despite a widespread search by the police and navy, the Lonergans were never found.
Advertisement Advertisement

In America, Open Water was highly acclaimed after previews at the Seattle and Sundance film festivals. It is being billed as "The Blair Witch Project meets Jaws", and with good reason. As with Blair Witch, a low-budget horror film that shook audiences with its lifelike, almost documentary style when it was released four years ago, Open Water conveys a feeling of reality that has chilled reviewers.

The use of a bobbing camera gives audiences a diver's view from the water and a graphic idea of how it would feel to be floating on an apparently benign and gentle ocean swell, only to submerge momentarily to find yourself surrounded by grey shapes.

It is chillingly authentic; all the more so because the lead actors, the relatively unknown Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis, spent more than 120 hours in the water 50 kilometres off Barbados amid all kinds of sea life, including the real bull sharks and grey reef sharks used in the scenes. Wearing chain mail under their wetsuits, the actors bobbed in the water while shark experts and the filmmakers manipulated their co-stars' movements by throwing chunks of bloody tuna near them.

It is undeniably gripping, but made all the more so by the controversy surrounding the fate of the Lonergans. Even today, six years after their disappearance, there is still debate over exactly how and why the two holidaying teachers, who were originally from Louisiana but lived in Fiji, came to find themselves adrift at a spot on the Great Barrier Reef known as Fish City.

A vest that had belonged to Mr Lonergan, which was found by police washed up on a beach.

In a series of sensational court cases after their disappearance on January 25, 1998, suggestions were made that their abandonment had not been an accident and that the couple had engineered it to commit suicide or provide a cover for them to begin a new life.

At an inquest later that year, Graham Houston, the counsel for the operators of the Outer Edge, the boat that left without them, drew gasps from the gallery when he mooted the concept of a double suicide or even the possibility that Mr Lonergan murdered his wife before ending his own life.

At first, it seemed an outlandish concept but then excerpts from diaries written by Tom, 34, and Eileen, 29, shortly before their disappearance were read out in court.

On August 3, 1997, less than six months before the fateful trip on the Outer Edge, Mr Lonergan wrote in an entry: "Like a student who has finished an exam I feel that my life is complete and I am ready to die. As far as I can tell, from here my life can only get worse. It has peaked and it's all downhill from here until my funeral." The entry was in character with the rest of his diary.

He and his wife had joined the US Peace Corps in the early 1990s and moved to Fiji to teach underprivileged children.

Both, however, hated their jobs. Mr Lonergan wrote that he had "had enough of casting pearls before swine", and his wife recorded in her diary that she didn't like her students and hated teaching.

Mr Lonergan, seemingly depressed, also wrote of how upset his mother had been with him for turning his back on his Catholic faith and eloping with Eileen.

On January 9, 1998, just two weeks before their diving trip, Mrs Lonergan wrote a particularly alarming entry: "(Tom) hopes to die a quick and painly (sic) death, and he hopes it happens soon. Tom's not suicidal, but he's got a death wish that could lead him to what he desires and I could get caught in that."

She also wrote of how their relationship had entered a new and unhealthy phase: "Our lives are so entwined now and we are hardly two individuals. I am still Eileen, but I am mostly Eileen and Tom. He is mostly Tom and Eileen. Where we are now goes beyond dependence, beyond love."

Since there is no disputing that the crew of the Outer Edge did miscalculate the number of divers back on board before setting off, any suicidal plans of the Lonergans would have had to rely on an unforeseen and genuine mistake. To most minds, such a coincidence would seem extremely unlikely.

The mystery deepened, however when items of the Lonergans' diving gear were found, apparently washed up on a beach more than 100 kilometres north west of where the couple had been seen last. There were no bite marks on any of it.

Also found on a beach was a slate used for writing messages to other divers. On one side was inconsequential scribble dealing with technical diving matters that was positively identified as Mr Lonergan's handwriting. On the other side was a simple message. Dated 8am on January 26, the day after they were last seen, it read: "Can anyone help, we have been abandoned by Outer Edge at Agincourt Reef. Please help us before we die." The writing could not, however, be definitively identified as belonging to the couple.

Questions were also raised over why the couple had apparently ignored a large lifebuoy nearby that was easily visible from the water. Although Mr Lonergan had poor eyesight, his wife had no such problem.

The presence of an "unidentified" game-fishing boat observed roaring away from the dive site on the afternoon of the disappearance, and more than 20 "sightings" of the Lonergans in the months after the incident, have fuelled theories that the couple faked their own deaths. They were apparently spotted browsing in a bookshop in Port Douglas, northern Queensland, and on another occasion they were allegedly seen at a service station in Darwin.

In the country pubs of northern Queensland, even alien abduction has not been ruled out definitively as an explanation of the Lonergans' whereabouts. Such fantasies are, of course, dismissed by rational observers of the case, but the talk persists nonetheless.

- Daily Telegraph




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