Mystery still surrounds disappearance of US couple on Great Barrier Reef


Mark Murray


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It has been two decades since the disappearance of Tom and Eileen Lonergan, who had been scuba diving at St Crispins Reef. IMAGE: Supplied.
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TODAY marks the 20th anniversary of the disappearance of American couple Tom and Eileen Lonergan on the Great Barrier Reef, who had been scuba diving aboard Port Douglas boat MV Outer Edge.

The pair jumped into the open water for their third dive on the afternoon of January 25, 1998 at St Crispins Reef, and were never seen again.

Believing they had accounted for all 26 people on board, Outer Edge left the dive site without them. It took two days for the error to be noticed.

Their bodies have never been found.

Undamaged scuba vests and gear washed ashore near Cooktown in the following weeks, along with a message on a dive slate reading ‘We have been abandoned…by M.V Outer Edge. Help!’

The saga spawned numerous conspiracy theories in the aftermath, including claims they faked their own deaths and were still alive.

Veteran Port Douglas diver Ben Cropp told a 1998 inquest they’d likely been eaten by tiger sharks.

“Tigers are very cautious sharks," he said at the time.

“They just circle and watch. They may do this for an hour before moving closer and may follow you for another hour before they take that first bite, and then you don't have a hope."

The story inspired the 2004 feature film Open Water.

Tom, 34, and Eileen, 28, from Louisiana, had been holidaying in Port Douglas before deciding on a Sunday trip to the reef. They were experienced divers, clocking more than 160 between them before that fateful day.

An investigation would later conclude the couple died at sea, with Outer Edge skipper Geoff Nairn charged with manslaughter. He would later beat the charge, although his company pleaded guilty to negligence and went out of business.

The tragedy changed the reef industry forever with reforms introduced almost immediately after.

Two decades on, the mystery surrounding the exact fate of the Lonergan's remains as intriguing as ever.

Do you have an account of the Lonergan's story? Get in touch with marknewsport.comau

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