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In the News: Open Water -- The Sequel?

Andrea Sachs

Over the past few days, we've been following the unfolding drama of two divers who were deserted by their dive boat and spent 19 hours adrift in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. During this time, they tried to avoid saying the "S" word (the waters are shark-infested) and shouted "I love you" to stay awake, according to a Daily Mail online report.

As a diver, I'm more fearful of equipment malfunction than losing my group. When I dove the Great Barrier Reef, I attached myself to the dive master like a remora on a shark.That is why I find this case so intriguing. How could they have lost sight of one another?

American Allyson Dalton and her Brit boyfriend, Richard Neely, said they were diving within proper range of the lagoon dive site (200 yards) when the vessel departed without them. They claimed they shouted and whistled to attract the group's attention, but to no avail. They then spent the next 19 hours adrift in the Whitsundays off Queensland, until they were rescued. (For some live action, check out the video footage and photos at the Today Show.)

The company countered their story, asserting that it followed the rules of rescue. According to the Times Online, OzSail "instigated a full and proper search . . . in accordance with protocols." Witnesses on the boat backed-up their claim.

Some question the couple's motives. They brought along a water bottle, which as we all know (divers and landlubbers alike) is useless underwater and with a regulator in your mouth. They also wore full wet suits in tropical waters, which is like donning a sweater in Florida in August. They also sold their story to the tabloids for multi-digits.

But I'm not about to cast doubt on the derring-duo. I give them credit for staying composed and clear-headed enough to tie up to each other for body warmth -- and to use their professions of love as caffeine. However, as a diver, I do question some of their judgments. First, why and how did they ever lose sight of their dive master? No giant clam or rainbow-colored fish would ever distract me from my group. I also would make a giant splash, using every whistle, warning flag and flipper slap available to draw attention to my dire situation. (The dive group wonders why it did not see the yellow alert device the couple supposedly employed.) Then, I would have swum to a reef, rocky cluster or bumpy protusion, anything to make me more visible.

To be honest, I can't imagine anyone, no matter how twisted and greedy, risking their life for a wad of cash. Whether or not it was staged, the divers did not respect the Laws of Scuba. In my opinion, those two are more dangerous to the waters than any shark.

By Andrea Sachs |  May 29, 2008; 9:03 AM ET  | Category:  Andrea Sachs
Previous: That's the Ticket: Small-Town Drama This Summer | Next: Hotel Horrors: Don't Let This Happen to You

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Seems way too suspicious for me. I considered myself a reasonably experienced diver, but still cling closely to the dive master and the group just about anywhere I go. It is hard to imagine being left behind...doesn't every dive boat do a headcount prior to leaving a site? This is not a location where I would risk death or personal injury for some a quick buck. How would you know that you would be rescued? How do you know that some errant large shark doesn't simply decide that he is feeling a bit naughty and sample that dark object in the water?

Posted by: More Cowbell | May 29, 2008 11:05 AM

Just read the story on MSNBC...he is a dive master? OK, the sea state was not flat calm, but I still find it hard to believe that the whistle could not be heard or the dive buoy not seen. Either a VERY irresponsible dive operator or absolute carelessness. Plus, I don't think that this type of incident is covered under DAN, but I believe that any payment they receive for this should go back to the AUS government as a token of their appreciation.

Posted by: More Cowbell | May 29, 2008 11:15 AM

I don't understand the assertion in this post that divers always must stay with a divemaster/group! That's like saying that the only way to tour a city is to go in a bus with a professional guide. Sure, you'll still see good stuff and might be 1% safer, but there's a whole lot you'll probably miss out on too! If a buddy pair is both properly certified and conditions are fair, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that it's necessary to stick with the group!

Posted by: Andy | May 29, 2008 12:07 PM

They already made a sequel to "Open Water"

Posted by: Anonymous | May 29, 2008 12:45 PM

Not to be callous, but if you don't believe you shouldn't stay with the divemaster - who is, apparently, legally liable for your safety - then perhaps this couple doesn't really have the right to sue.

After all, you are breaking any rules you agreed to comply with in diving with a group like this.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 29, 2008 1:20 PM

Huh? You're supposed to stay with your dive master? Different from the dives I did on the Great Barrier Reef. I'd extend Andy's metaphor and say that's like being on a guided trip to Europe, but when the guide says, "ok, go explore Paris for a few hours and meet back here for dinner," you instead refuse to let him out of your sight.

If I recall correctly, I also wore a full wet suit diving on the great barrier reef. I can sunburn through anything, plus once you get down a bit, water is cold!

Posted by: h3 | May 29, 2008 4:22 PM

First of all, wearing a full wetsuit in warm waters isn't suspicious, it just means that the person wearing it gets cold easily. I used to wear a 5mm full body suit in 31° degrees in Thailand and after half an hour I started to get cold. The more you dive, the colder you get.

Secondly, the dive boat left. That says it all. The head divemaster should get fired. He or she obviously didn't follow procedures. You do not leave divers behind. And what about their divemaster (if they had one; quite often you only get a briefing in Australia), didn't he realise during the dive that he lost some of his customers? He basically let the dive boat leave without making sure they were on board. How irresponsible is that?

As for bringing a water bottle, I know a diver who's taking something to eat with him, as he's a diabetic. Having something to drink with you for directly after the dive might just be because you have a dry mouth from breathing through your regulator for an hour.

Posted by: Boris | May 29, 2008 9:15 PM

I have never been diving, so this story is a little unsetteling. But, I tend to disagree with the above analogy. It sounds more like a 20-30 minute Greyhound break. "Be back on the bus by 10:20 or you WILL be left behind." Face it: being in the center of a city is not like being out in the open sea. What are the standard procedures (if such exist) for calling divers back to the boat? Does the boat blow a horn? Does the dive master bang a gong underwater? Maybe divers in a group should be given whistles to blow, in case they need to get the boat's attention.

News shows are one thing, selling the story to a tabloid does sort of taint the situation. It does make the motives of the couple suspect.

Posted by: rja112 | May 30, 2008 12:29 AM

It is 100% the leader's responsibility to make sure everyone is back on board before the boat leaves. Diving is dangerous. A missing person could be stuck underwater and unconscious.

And if you had something nasty happen to you and the tabloids offered you money to tell them about it, would you say no? Maybe you would, but a lot of people would think that was a way to make lemonade out of a terrible experience.

Posted by: h3 | May 30, 2008 10:08 AM

I've been diving for 40 years throughout the Caribbean and have logged 100s of dives. I'm not a risk taker, but I don't like hanging next to the dive master. (It makes me feeling like a kindergartner holding a rope.) As those of you that have been diving often know, water conditions can change quickly. The water's calm and the current slack when you start your dive. Then conditions change. The current may accelerate, particularly near a reef opening and during certain parts of the tide. Wind and waves can increase. Like Dalton and Neely, my brother, my dive buddy, and I have found ourselves on several occasions far from the dive boat through no fault of our own. This even happened to us once on a night dive. We found that the current and waves were pushing us further away from the boat. Each time, we remained calm, inflated and waived our sausage buoys, blew on our whistles and, at night, shined our dive lights. Each time, when the capable captain of the dive operator we went with noticed that we were not on board the boat, he went looking for and found us. For safety reasons, we don't just going diving with any dive operation. I have to wonder how diligent and wide of a search the dive boat operator made for Dalton and Neely. Nothing I have read about what Dalton and Neely did, such as their heavy wetsuits and water bottle, has aroused my suspicions. I've seen all of these things on the many dive boats I've been on.

Posted by: Booker | May 31, 2008 7:21 PM

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