October 14, 2004: Headlines: COS - Tuvalu: Scuba: Movies: Crime: The Australian: Australian Dive shop owners exchanged nervous looks and tried to smile as they shuffled into a Cairns cinema last week to watch an advance screening of the movie they had been dreading for months. It has been six years since American couple Tom and Eileen Lonergan were left behind during a dive trip to a remote section of the Great Barrier Reef and there are fears the movie about their disappearance will reopen old wounds.

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Tuvalu: Special Report: The loss of Tuvalu RPCVs Tom and Eileen Lonergan: October 14, 2004: Headlines: COS - Tuvalu: Scuba: Movies: Crime: The Australian: Australian Dive shop owners exchanged nervous looks and tried to smile as they shuffled into a Cairns cinema last week to watch an advance screening of the movie they had been dreading for months. It has been six years since American couple Tom and Eileen Lonergan were left behind during a dive trip to a remote section of the Great Barrier Reef and there are fears the movie about their disappearance will reopen old wounds.

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-141-157-21-111.balt.east.verizon.net - 141.157.21.111) on Saturday, November 06, 2004 - 2:46 pm: Edit Post

Australian Dive shop owners exchanged nervous looks and tried to smile as they shuffled into a Cairns cinema last week to watch an advance screening of the movie they had been dreading for months. It has been six years since American couple Tom and Eileen Lonergan were left behind during a dive trip to a remote section of the Great Barrier Reef and there are fears the movie about their disappearance will reopen old wounds.

Australian Dive shop owners exchanged nervous looks and tried to smile as they shuffled into a Cairns cinema last week to watch an advance screening of the movie they had been dreading for months. It has been six years since American couple Tom and Eileen Lonergan were left behind during a dive trip to a remote section of the Great Barrier Reef and there are fears the movie about their disappearance will reopen old wounds.

Australian Dive shop owners exchanged nervous looks and tried to smile as they shuffled into a Cairns cinema last week to watch an advance screening of the movie they had been dreading for months. It has been six years since American couple Tom and Eileen Lonergan were left behind during a dive trip to a remote section of the Great Barrier Reef and there are fears the movie about their disappearance will reopen old wounds.

Diving for cover over deaths

Ian Gerard

October 14, 2004

DIVE shop owners exchanged nervous looks and tried to smile as they shuffled into a Cairns cinema last week to watch an advance screening of the movie they had been dreading for months.

It has been six years since American couple Tom and Eileen Lonergan were left behind during a dive trip to a remote section of the Great Barrier Reef and there are fears the movie about their disappearance will reopen old wounds.

It has taken the Queensland dive industry years to bounce back from the shock of leaving the tourists stranded in shark-infested waters and dive operators are unhappy the hit low-budget movie Open Water revisits the tragedy.

Dubbed the "Blair Witch Project on water", because of its confronting documentary style, Open Water threatens to keep people out of the water the same way Jaws did 30 years ago. Dive boat operators know that shark movies are bad for business and Open Water has been doing good business. The movie cost just $US120,000 ($164,850) to make but sparked a bidding war when it screened at this year's Sundance Film Festival. It has already taken $US30 million in cinemas in America and $US8.8 million in Britain. The movie opens across Australia today.

The disappearance of Louisiana couple Tom and Eileen Lonergan has become entrenched in Queensland folklore. On a clear summer's day on January 25, 1998, the Lonergans disappeared after travelling from Cairns to the glamour resort town of Port Douglas to dive the more spectacular and remote regions of the famous reef.

Having spent three years teaching in Fiji and Tuvalu for the Peace Corps, Tom, 34, and Eileen, 28, were enjoying a holiday in Australia before returning to the US.

St Crispin Reef was 60km offshore and one of the best diving spots on the reef. The Lonergans, experienced divers, were keen to explore its submerged beauty and joined 26 other divers on the boat Outer Edge.

The pair enjoyed two 40-minute dives before arriving at the site of their third and final dive for the day at an area of St Crispin known as Fish City. With British diver Bryan Brogdan, they spent 40 minutes admiring the thousands of brightly coloured fish until they began to run out of air. Brogdan returned to Outer Edge but the Lonergans chose to linger a few moments longer.

It was a mistake that would prove fatal. The couple were never seen again.

The Outer Edge crew failed to conduct a headcount of its divers and accidentally left them stranded in the ocean. Due to a series of stuff-ups, the alarm was not raised for more than two days.

What happened to the Lonergans is the subject of Open Water. The movie uses live sharks to show in painstaking detail the fate of a couple abandoned at sea.

Writing in The Australian earlier this month, reviewer David Stratton said Open Water "provides some of the most unsettling moments you're likely to experience in the cinema ... rarely has a film created such a feeling of dread as this one."

The dive industry found the movie confronting on several levels the visual realisation of what had happened and the damage it could continue to cause. "I felt horrified that as an industry we could do that to people after watching the film," Dive Queensland spokesman Col McKenzie, who was at the advance screening, said. "For me it was an eye-opener. This can happen and has happened and the Lonergans are not the only ones we have left out there."

McKenzie knows only too well the damage a scary shark movie can do. He was working in the industry when Jaws, the classic 1975 shark movie that kept people out of the water for years, was released. "Jaws was a shocker for our industry," McKenzie says. "I was working at a dive place in Brisbane at the time and the phones literally stopped ringing. We sat there for a couple of weeks and I looked at my staff and said: 'What are we going to do here?"'

Diving is big business in Queensland. Cairns and the Whitsunday Islands are the two biggest locations for diving in the world, with an estimated 1.4 million dives on the Great Barrier Reef each year. The industry injects up to $2 billion a year into the state economy and employs 25,000 people. Marine tourism is also one of the single biggest employers in Queensland.

While the figures certainly sound impressive, the dive industry has taken a hit in recent years since airfares have sunk to record lows. A typical three-day dive trip on the reef costs about $500 too much for budget travellers, who pay far less than that on their journey.

Victoria Hunt, who runs Discover Dive, a small Port Douglas diving school, knows some of the people involved in the Lonergans' disappearance but does not feel threatened by the movie. Hunt says the same thing couldn't happen today because of the strict regulations brought in after their deaths.

"It annoys me because it throws a negative shadow over something that's a very thrilling and safe experience," she says. "It will only be a problem for a minority of people for a short period of time. People who already dive know how safe diving really is but people who don't dive might be put off."

McKenzie is confident any drop in dive numbers will only be short-term. "I am sure there will be a period where it does slow down, I'm sure that there will be people that don't want to do it," he says. "Some people have already got a fear and it's possible this will prevent them from doing it but people who really want to go in there and get into an adventure will probably go out there and still do that," he says.

"One of the reasons people don't learn to dive is that they are scared of sharks so this kind of movie will play on these fears and that's fine. Those people probably should not learn to dive."

Before the movie's advance screening, talk of the Lonergans continued to swirl around Port Douglas despite the best efforts of dive operators to forget the tragedy. While an inquest found the couple were probably eaten by sharks and blamed the Outer Edge crew, the Lonergans' disappearance has left a trail of rumour and wild speculation.

According to local legend, the couple either drowned, were eaten by sharks, staged their own deaths, died in a suicide pact or it was a murder-suicide in which Tom killed Eileen and then himself.

The rumours were sparked by the circumstances of their disappearance (their bodies have never been found) and a number of bizarre so-called clues.

Nine people told police they saw the couple after they were supposed to have perished on the reef. The couple's diary also perplexed investigators, due to the strange nature of some entries. "I feel as though my life is complete and I'm ready to die," Tom wrote on August 3, 1997. "As far as I can tell, from here my life can only get worse. It has peaked and it's all downhill from here until the funeral."

Just 16 days before the couple disappeared, Eileen wrote: "Tom hopes to die a quick and fairly painly [painless] death and he hopes it happens soon. 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 that."

According to Chris Kentis, writer and director of Open Water, the film is about "abandonment, being forgotten and put in a place where you have no control". It's the same predicament now facing the Queensland dive industry.





When this story was posted in November 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: The Australian

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Tuvalu; Scuba; Movies; Crime

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By andreas drexler (c-69-251-246-96.hsd1.md.comcast.net - 69.251.246.96) on Sunday, March 19, 2006 - 1:02 am: Edit Post

what a terrible end for the lonergans. the australian industry needs to own up.

By Anonymous (219-89-43-91.dialup.xtra.co.nz - 219.89.43.91) on Monday, April 02, 2007 - 7:35 am: Edit Post

The guy was a fruit cake who wanted to commit suicide... it's a shame that the poor aussies have to take the blame.

By Trent Bridgton (bri-pow-pr3.tpgi.com.au - 203.213.7.132) on Tuesday, January 22, 2008 - 11:18 pm: Edit Post

I used to live in the area and you might think i'm insane, my work as a security guard keeps me up all night and into the morning, UFO's are a very common sight out at sea, just off the coast, and on the first night of their dissapearance I witnessed strange lights in the sky, but this time they were much closer than usual.

By DRW (host-208-118-204-122.dtccom.net - 208.118.204.122) on Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - 8:14 pm: Edit Post

Poor Aussies? They just left two more people out there. Only by the Grace of God were they found alive after 19 hours drifting. And now the "Poor Aussies" want them to pay for their own rescue, to the tune of $300,000.00. Funny how the Aussies can count to 300,000 when it's in their dollars but can't count when it comes to 2 foreign tourists!


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