23 September 2005

Australia: Police to interview dive boat crew

Police will today interview the crew of a dive boat after two British tourists survived a six-hour ordeal in shark infested waters on the Great Barrier Reef.

Louise Woodger, 29, and Gordon Pratley, 31, become separated from their dive boat Sea-Esta about 10am (AEST) on Saturday.

The couple, suffering exhaustion and mild hypothermia, were found clinging to emergency flotation devices about 3.50pm - nearly 10km from where they first entered the water at Wheeler Reef north-east of Townsville.

The dive boat crew had reported them missing after a head count.

New dive safety procedures introduced after the disappearance of American couple Tom and Eileen Lonergan in 1998 have been credited with helping to save the couple's lives.

Their disappearance was not reported to police until two days after the trip and they were never found.

The incident sparked a crisis of confidence in north Queensland's dive industry and the tightening of safety regulations for dive boats.

In the latest incident, police said there was no suggestion of any negligence by the crew.

Acting Inspector Greg Doyle said yesterday police would interview the rest of the dive group today.

"We haven't had the opportunity to talk to the crew or the other members on the dive ship itself, because they were actually out for the weekend," he said.

"So they don't actually come back until tomorrow, which is Monday, and we'll obviously get the chance to speak to the crew and the rest of the passengers on the boat at that stage."

Coast Guard skipper Jon Colless, who ferried the exhausted pair to safety, said they were at risk of "very large" sharks and in greater danger if they were not found before sunset.

"They were freakishly lucky that search was called early in the day, that the weather was going down, it had been a bit lumpy ... and the skipper of the dive boat was right on the ball, did everything right," he said.

Mr Colless said the area in which the pair went missing was between two reefs and a high tide "caused a much stronger current between the reefs than I think anybody realised".

Source: dailytelegraph.news.com.au


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