Australian authorities are investigating an incident that occurred this past weekend in which a Great Barrier Reef dive boat accidentally left behind a U.S. snorkeler.
A spokesman for the company denied Ian Cole was ever in danger. But it drew immediate comparisons to the infamous case of Americans Tom and Eileen Lonergan, who died in 1998 after their tour boat left while they were scuba diving on the reef. Officials believe they drowned or were eaten by sharks and the story became the inspiration for the 2003 film Open Water.
Cole, a 28 year-old from Michigan, said the Passions of Paradise tour boat took off without him Saturday on Michaelmas Cay near Cairns.
He received a $200 restaurant voucher by the tour company as compensation- a small return for a man who feared his life.
Cole told the Sydney Morning Herald, Panic kicks in, your heart rate goes up, and you don't know what's going to happen. I was sucking water back into my snorkel and was really trying hard to stay calm. When I got to the other boat they looked down like 'what the hell are you doing here?' They said my boat had left 15 minutes ago. I thought they were joking.
Cole admitted that he did not handle the situation well after the boat disappeared and was tired and panicking.
Representatives of marine park tourism operators told the Herald that Cole was making a mountain out of a molehill, dismissing his ordeal as no worse than being left behind at a beach.
The dive boat staff member who missed Cole by failing to perform a headcount has reportedly been fired.
After the Lonergan incident in 1998, Australian dive operators tightened their safety standards. Yet, a handful of reef tourists have found themselves adrift since. In 2008, a British diver and his American girlfriend became lost when they resurfaced from a dive on the reef and found themselves far away from their dive boat. A helicopter rescued them after they spent 19 hours in the ocean.
While this accident is certainly frightening, tourists to the Great Barrier Reef can be assured that these incidents are few and far between.