Tom and Eileen LONERGAN
Tom Lonergan, aged 33 and his wife Eileen Lonergan, 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
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
Tom and Eileen were US citizens on holiday in Australia from Baton
The Tragic Story Of Divers Tom And
Eileen Lonergan — Who Were Stranded In Shark-Infested Waters
It took two days for members of the boat that abandoned Tom and Eileen
Lonergan to realize they were missing.
On January 25, 1998, Tom and Eileen Lonergan, a married American couple, left
Port Douglas, Australia by boat with a group. They were off to dive St.
Crispin’s reef, a popular dive site in the Great Barrier Reef. But something was
about to go terribly wrong.
From Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Tom Lonergan was 33 and Eileen was 28. Avid divers,
the couple was described as
“young, idealistic and in love with each other.”
They met at Louisiana State University, which is also where they married. Eileen
was already a scuba diver and she got Tom to take up the hobby as well.
On that day in late January, Tom and Eileen were on their way home from Fiji
where they had been serving in the Peace Corps for a year. They stopped in
Queensland, Australia on the way for the chance to dive the world’s largest
coral reef system.
Through the diving company Outer Edge, 26
passengers boarded the scuba boat. Geoffrey Nairn, the boat’s skipper, led the
way as they set out to their destination 25 miles off the coast of Queensland.
After arriving, the passengers put on their diving gear and jumped into the
Coral Sea. That is the last clear thing that can be said about Tom and Eileen
Lonergan. What one could imagine is, after a scuba diving session of about 40
minutes, the couple break surface.
They see a clear blue sky, clear blue water all the way to the horizon, and
nothing else. No boat in front, no boat behind. Just two disoriented divers who
realize their crew has left them.
Leaving divers behind isn’t necessarily a death sentence. But in this case, the
amount of time it took for someone to recognize that Tom and Eileen weren’t on
the returning boat was too long.
Eerily, the day after the incident, another dive group taken to the area by Outer
Edge found dive weights at the bottom. The discovery was simply described
by a crew member as a bonus find.
Two days passed before anyone realized that the Lonergans were missing. It was
only realized when Nairn found a bag aboard containing their personal
belongings, wallets, and passports.
Alarm bells rang; a massive search was
underway. Both air and sea rescue teams spent three days looking for the missing
couple. Everyone from the Navy to civilian vessels took part in the search.
Rescue members found some of the Lonergan’s diving gear washed up ashore. This
included a dive slate, an accessory used for making notes underwater. The slate
“To anyone who can help us: We have been abandoned on Agin court reef Reef 25
Jan 1998 03pm. Please help us come to rescue us before we die. Help!!!”
But Tom and Eileen Lonergan’s bodies were never found.
Like most unsolved disappearances, chilling theories arose in
the aftermath. Was it a matter of negligence on the part of the company and
captain? Or was there something more sinister lurking beneath the surface of the
seemingly do-gooder couple?
There was some speculation that they staged it or that perhaps it was a suicide
or even a murder-suicide. Tom and Eileen’s diaries had disturbing
entries that added fuel to the fire.
Tom seemed to be depressed. Eileen’s own writing was concerned with Tom’s
apparent death wish, writing two weeks before their fateful trip that he wished
to die a “quick and peaceful death” and that “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
Their parents disputed this suspicion and said the entries were taken out of
context. The general consensus was that the couple was left dehydrated and
disoriented, leading to either drowning or being eaten by sharks.
In a proceeding court case, Coroner Noel Nunan charged Nairn with unlawful
killing. Nunan said that the “skipper should be vigilant for the safety of
passengers and ensure safety measures are carried out.” He added, “When you
combine the number of mistakes and the severity of the mistakes I am satisfied a
reasonable jury would find Mr. Nairn guilty of manslaughter on criminal
Nairn was found not guilty. But the company was fined after they pled guilty to
negligence, which caused them to go out of business. Tom And Eileen Lonergan’s
case also prompted stricter government regulations in regards to safety,
including headcount confirmations and new identification measures.
In 2003, the film Open
Water was released and is based on the tragic events of the couple’s