Imagine surfacing from an ocean dive only to discover your boat is gone and you're completely alone. This scary situation actually happened to Tom and Eileen Lonergan on January 25, 1998. Tom and Eileen Lonergan were experienced divers on a trip to Australia's Great Barrier Reef when their dive boat crew left them behind. Two days passed before anyone realized they were missing, and rescue teams searched for the married couple unsuccessfully for days. The two were never seen again, their bodies assumed to be lost at sea.
Like other nightmarish experiences, Tom and Eileen Lonergan's dreadful fate turned into a film, Open Water. The 2003 film was a critical darling and depicted the couple meeting their end being circled by sharks. The true story behind the Open Water movie, however, is much scarier simply because no one knows what really happened to Tom and Eileen Lonergan.
A Dive Slate With A Distress Message Was Discovered Six Months After Their Disappearance
In order to communicate effectively underwater, many divers carry dive slates, small boards on which they can write messages or record information. Six months after Tom and Eileen Lonergan's disappearance, a well-weathered slate was discovered by a fisherman miles away from their dive site. Along with the date of January 26, 1998, and a time of 8:00 am, the slate read, "PLEASE HELP US OR WE WILL DIE."
This distress note appears to clearly indicate the Lonergans were not left behind by choice and were alive at least until the next day to write the distress message.
Diaries Entries Have Led Some To Believe They Had A Suicide Pact
The diaries of Tom and Eilleen Lonergan were discovered after their disappearance and contained some eerie insights. According to entries, both Tom and Eileen were unhappy with their lives and each other. The couple both had careers as teachers, and each wrote how they hated their jobs. Eileen's diary included entries about how she felt too intertwined with her husband and how he had developed a death wish. Tom's diary backed this up as he wrote, "Like a student who has finished an exam I feel that my life is complete and I am ready to die."
Although these disturbing writings from the Lonergans were mostly considered coincidental, some theories suggest the couple was carrying out a suicide pact or were the victims of a murder-suicide at the hands of Tom.
One Expert Believes The Lonergans Were Eaten By Tiger Sharks
Open Water suggests the Lonergans met their ultimate fate thanks to sharks. Although half of the world's sharks live in the waters around Australia, most of them are completely harmless to humans. There was also no real evidence of a shark attack - such as blood residue or teeth marks - on the couple's wetsuit and dive jackets that washed ashore.
However, one veteran Australian diver believes they were eaten by tiger sharks. According to the testimony of Ben Cropp, the notoriously dangerous sharks probably watched the couple and approached slowly after a few hours, eventually taking a bite. He also believed the Lonergans had not lasted more than 48 hours because of this.
A Captain Believes The Lonergans May Have Hitched A Ride On His Boat
While police were investigating the case, another strange story emerged. Another boat captain who claimed to have visited the same dive spot the next day may have encountered the couple. According to his story, the head count before the vessel's return trip came out two more than the one taken when the boat left port. The tourists on his expedition that day were all from Italy and spoke in their native tongue. However, the captain also claimed to hear a few American voices among the tourists that day.
If his story is true, it's possible the Lonergans slipped in among the divers and simply disappeared once the boat reached the shore. This theory would mean the couple planned ahead of time to spend the night in the middle of the ocean, waiting for an entirely different boat to show up the next day. While it is an interesting theory, it's not very plausible.