January 31, 1998 in Nation/World

Two American Divers Left Behind By Tour Boat

Rohan Sullivan Associated Press
 

A scuba diving instructor apologized Friday for returning from a Great Barrier Reef tour without two Americans who had specifically asked to dive by themselves.

The search for Thomas and Eileen Lonergan of Baton Rouge, La., was called off Friday night.

“I apologize, I sincerely apologize,” Karl Jesienowski told reporters.

Jesienowski said a head count was taken before the tour boat Outer Ridge left the reef Sunday, but “somehow they fell through the system.”

He said the Americans had asked to dive alone.

“They asked specifically not to dive with a dive master, so they were diving on their own, which is cool,” he said. “But if they didn’t dive the plan, then all of a sudden they come to the surface and … there’s no boat there ..th.”

Longeran, 33, and his 28-year-old wife were last seen Sunday when they entered the water as part of a group of 26 people diving at St. Crispins Reef, 43 miles northwest of the resort town of Port Douglas.

Tour operators did not notice that the couple, both experienced divers, was missing for more than 48 hours, when some of their belongings were found on the boat.

Police were notified and a search began Wednesday with 17 planes, 2 helicopters and a number of boats scouring a 3,200-square-nauticalmile area of ocean and a long strip of coastline. Australia’s national search and rescue organization called off the search at nightfall Friday after finding no sign of them.

Police said the Outer Edge Dive boat had returned to the area Monday and found weight belts in the same area where the couple had been diving.

Acting police chief superintendent Col McCallum said the couple’s chances of survival were minuscule, and currents could have carried the bodies well away from the original dive area.

Government officials are also investigating the couple’s disappearance and have not ruled out charges against the company. The company itself has refused to comment on the disappearance, apart from issuing a statement of regret.

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