Tom and Eileen LONERGAN
Tom, aged 33 and Eileen, aged 29 were diving on the Great Barrier Reef
off Cairns on January 25th 1998 when they were left behind by their tour boat
at sea. Their disappearance was not realised for three days by which time
there was no sign of them. On Monday 26 January 1998, two weight belts were
discovered at St Crispin Reef by a diver. It is possible/probable that these
were the Lonergans' belts dropped by them once they discovered the boat had
left them behind. 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. A dive slate was also found on a beach and this was confirmed as being the Lonergans'.
Tom and Eileen were US citizens on holiday in Australia from Baton Rouge, Loiusiana.
Tom and Eileen Lonergan were a married couple from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States, who had just recently completed a three year tour of duty with the Peace Corps. They were stranded January 25, 1998, while SCUBA diving with a group of divers off Australia's Great Barrier Reef and were never found.
The group's boat from the Outer Edge Dive Company accidentally abandoned Tom and Eileen due to a faulty head count taken by the dive boat crew. Upon leaving the diving area, the twenty-four other divers and five crew members failed to notice that the couple was not aboard. The couple was left to fend for themselves in shark-infested waters. Although their bodies were never recovered, they likely eventually died of dehydration, drowning, shark attack, or a combination thereof.
It was not until two days later on January 27, 1998, that the pair was found to be missing after a bag containing their passports and belongings was found on board the dive boat. A huge 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. The recovered gear included a diver's slate (a device used for communicating underwater) which reportedly read: "Monday 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!!!" Other sources state that the slate simply contained the words: "Please help us or we will die. January 26, 8:00 A.M."
Several theories were suggested surrounding their disappearance. 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 Lonergans' 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 wellbeing, 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 remain unread except by the Coroner, Port Douglas police, and the Hains family. Eileen’s father, John Hains, later said that he suspects the couple ultimately became dehydrated and disoriented and in the end succumbed to the sea or to sharks. 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.