Tom and Eileen Lonergan
Thomas Joseph Lonergan and Eileen Cassidy (née Hains) Lonergan, born 1964 and 1969, respectively, were a married couple from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States, who were mistakenly stranded in the Coral Sea on January 25, 1998, while scuba diving with a group of divers off Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The boat that had transported the group to the dive site departed from the location before the Lonergans returned from their dive, with none of the vessel's crew or passengers noticing that the two had not come back aboard. The couple was never found and they are presumed to have died at sea. At the time of the incident, the Lonergans had recently completed a three-year tour of duty with the Peace Corps on the island of Tuvalu in the Pacific Ocean and were repeating that work on Fiji.
It was not until two days later, on January 27, 1998, that the pair was discovered to be missing after a bag containing their belongings was found on board the dive boat. A massive air and sea search took place over the following three days. Although some of their diving gear was found washed up later on a beach miles away from where they were lost, indicating that they drowned, their bodies were never found. Fishermen found a diver's slate (a device used for communicating underwater) and wrote down what it reportedly 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!!!"
Several theories were suggested surrounding their disappearance. At the time, it was suggested that the Lonergans might have staged their disappearance. However, 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 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, the 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 drowning, or sharks.
The coroner dismissed suggestions that the Lonergans had either committed suicide or faked their own disappearance, and formally charged Jack Nairn, skipper of the dive boat, with their unlawful killing. He was later found to be not guilty, but his company was fined after pleading guilty to negligence.
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- Missing divers 'unlawfully killed'
- Hollywood's 'Open Water' film earns rave reviews