Thomas and Eileen Lonergan (Fiji 1996-98), a married couple hailing from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States, had recently completed a two-year tour of duty with the Peace Corps. Following their service, they embarked on a journey to Australia.
On January 25, 1998, the Lonergans decided to indulge in their passion for scuba diving at St. Crispin’s Reef in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Despite being experienced divers with 80 dives each, tragedy struck during their outing. Accompanied by 26 fellow passengers and five crew members on the boat “Outer Edge,” the couple anticipated a fun day exploring the underwater wonders under the supervision of presumed experts.
The final dive at “Fish City,” a vibrant reef teeming with marine life, began around 2:20PM. However, by 3:10PM, the engines of the Outer Edge roared to life, and the boat departed, unknowingly leaving Thomas and Eileen submerged beneath the waves. The Lonergans were never seen again.
The discovery of their bag on the Outer Edge, two days later, raised alarm. Hotel staff, upon checking the bag’s contents and contacting the Lonergans’ accommodation, learned that the couple had not returned from their dive. News of their disappearance quickly became an international horror story, prompting an exhaustive air and sea search over the next three days.
Diving gear items washed ashore miles from the dive site, suggesting a tragic drowning. A diver’s slate found by fishermen bore a desperate message: “Monday Jan 26; 1998 08 am. To anyone who can help us: We have been abandoned on A[gin]court Reef 25 Jan 1998 03 pm. Please help us to rescue us before we die. Help!!!”
“The Outer Edge”
The safety procedures on the Outer Edge were revealed to be chaotic, with crew members unsure of responsibility for head counts and dive log entries. No records existed for the Lonergans’ depth or time spent underwater. Alarmingly, a mere three days before the ill-fated dive, a Workplace Health and Safety inspector had issued a warning to the boat. While speculation emerged that the couple might have staged their own disappearance, the absence of subsequent bank activity and unclaimed insurance policies refuted such theories. Suicide was also considered but ultimately dismissed.
The Lonergans’ mysterious and tragic disappearance inspired the movie “Open Water,” released in 2003.