Disappearance of Tom and Eileen Lonergan

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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.


The Lonergans were scuba diving with a group at St. Crispin's Reef[1] in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The boat that had transported the group to the dive site departed before the Lonergans returned from the water. None of the vessel's crew or passengers noticed that the two had not come back aboard.

At the time of the incident, the couple had recently completed a two-year tour of duty with the Peace Corps at Funafuti atoll in the small South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu and were repeating that work in Fiji.[2]


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: "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 to rescue us before we die. Help!!!"[2]


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.[3]

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'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, no matter the outcome.[4] However, the diary entries were taken out of context, according to Eileen's parents and family members.[5][6] 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.[6]

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.[7] He was later found not guilty,[8] but his company was fined after pleading guilty to negligence and went out of business. Queensland's government also introduced stiffer regulations, among which was the requirement that captains and dive masters independently confirm each head count.[3]


The 2003 movie Open Water claims to be based on the Lonergans' disappearance.[9] In the film, all names are changed, but there is a strong resemblance to the Lonergans' story.

The documentary Crime Stories: Deep Secret also featured the story of the Lonergans.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ McGeogh, Paul (30 Jan 1998). "Checks not made on couple who dived alone". Sydney Morning Herald.
  2. ^ a b Fickling, David. "Open Water: The True Story Behind the Disturbing Movie". Cyber Diver News Online  the guardian.com. July 23, 2004
  3. ^ a b Daley, Jason. Gang "A watery grave". Outside Magazine / Outside online  October 2003
  4. ^ Foggo, Daniel. “A mystery resurfaces”. The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - (c/o the Age). August 7, 2004
  5. ^ Chipperfield, Mark. "Coral reef couple 'faked dive deaths'". The London Daily Telegraph. Sunday 26 April 1998
  6. ^ a b Horwitz, Tony. “Dying at sea, probably.". New York Times. August 1, 2004
  7. ^ "Missing divers 'unlawfully killed' ". news.bbc.co.uk
  8. ^ "Death of Two American Divers - Thomas and Eileen Lonergan". michaelmcfadyensscuba.info
  9. ^ "Hollywood's 'Open Water' film earns rave reviews". cdnn.info. Archived from the original on October 12, 2008.

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