Dateline   |  March 11, 2011

Mystery in the Deep Blue Sea, Part 1

A honeymoon adventure off the Great Barrier Reef coast in Australia turns into a tragedy for American newlyweds Tina and Gabe Watson. Dennis Murphy reports.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> there are new developments in a case that's long been a puzzle from the deep. what happened to a young bride on her honeymoon, last seen scuba diving in australia with her husband. he told a heartbreaking tale but now faces trial in the u.s. and testimony from an underwater witness is being revealed. here's dennis murphy .

>> when you see the great barrier reef , there is something about the vastness of that whole ar area.

>> the water closes over your head, the entire rest of the world goes away.

>> reporter: it's a scuba diver 's nirvana, australia's great barrier reef . miles of coral and spectacular sea life that thrives on it.

>> big beautiful formations, stunning. absolutely beautiful.

>> reporter: and the bones of a ship on the bottom there is the highlight of any dive trip to the reef. 100 feet down lies the "angala" encrusted in coral. her deck hauntingly beautiful and a reminder how alien and hostile the sea can be to humans. the coastal vessel steamed into a cyclone in 1911 , taking all hands and passengers with her. 122 perished. the ship became a kind of australian "titanic." for 50 years the site of the wreck went undiscovered to all but the fish and turtles. then the tourists started coming in droves. and when in october of 2003 the latest of those divers boarded their home at sea for a week of reef exploring and cruising, none could imagine the horror that awaited one of them. the "angala" was about to claim another victim. among the guests that week were two american couples, great friends who had been diving together for 25 years. ken and paula snyder and ginger and doug milsap. they were introduced to the crew of the spoilsport as their big catamaran was called and then mixed and mingled with the other guests.

>> they had champagne and fruit going on. that's where we met tina and gabe.

>> reporter: tina and gabe watson were young honeymooners from alabama. gabe was the seasoned diver of the pair. bubbly, smiling tina was a novice, a pretty bride.

>> beautiful, peaches and cream come flexion and just as sweet and kind to everybody. very social. everybody loved her.

>> how about him?

>> he didn't say a whole lot. he looked like a big teddy bear .

>> they looked like a good couple to you?

>> they looked great. i remember tina being very loving and complimentary toward gabe. she was just an absolute little princess . he was tall and strapping and, you know, here they are on their honeymoon. it was sort of, oh, my gosh, aren't they cute?

>> reporter: so they were adopted by the group?

>> exactly. kind of like being on your kids' honeymoon.

>> reporter: the wedding just 11 days before back in alabama had been just as romantic as the one tina had long dreamed about. her mom and dad were as proud as they could be of their beautiful girl .

>> she looked at me and said, i'm a princess bride . i said, you sure are. and she left with her dad in the limo.

>> i think i cried almost all day long and it was the last one of my girls to get married.

>> reporter: tina 's maid of honor and best friend from high school amanda phillips was surprised tina would choose to go diving on her honeymoon, but whatever.

>> i would have said she would have rather gone to europe and done castle tours or something in the caribbean. but she said she wanted to go see the nemo fish. she wanted to see the sea turtles and nemo.

>> reporter: gabe also told tina she would have to pick up on his hobbies like scuba diving and fishing if they were to grow together as a couple. amanda couldn't believe it.

>> it made me laugh when she said take up fishing. i was like, what are you going to put a worm on the hook? she's like, no, i got him to do it. she just wasn't that type of person.

>> reporter: when she said she was going to start taking scuba lessons, it just blew me away.

>> i worried. she would say, mom, he's a certified rescue diver . you to not have to worry.

>> reporter: now with her bridegroom gabe as a dive buddy, tina and the other guests settled into their cabins as the spoilsport motored into the night . the next morning they were moored above the much anticipated wreck of the "angala." the dive master briefed the guests on what to expect below -- visibility, currents. he reviewed safety procedures. then everybody wriggled into wet suits including the two american couples, the veteran divers.

>> everybody just anticipates the ultimate dive.

>> reporter: diving the angala follows a set routine. it's not an amusement park routine, but close. divers are taken out to a buoy. they follow a permanent chain to the bow. they let go and let the current carry them some 300 feet across the deck. in scuba this is called a drift dive. when they have taken in the wreck they grab a second chain anchored off the stern to pull themselves back up to the surface where another dinghy waits to take them back to the big boat. the snyders and millsaps loved the experience.

>> you're just drifting along seeing this fabulous --

>> it was incredible.

>> imax of the ship with the growths and everything. it was a feast for the eyes.

>> reporter: the snyders and millsaps hadn't seen tina and gabe go in the water. they noticed a flurry of activity on the back deck.

>> i saw crew members running to the side of the boat. controlled, no panic.

>> you do this often enough you realize something wasn't right. i saw gabe coming up by himself and i knew we were missing a diver.

>> he was hitting the side of the inflatable as it was coming back. oh, my god. i lost her. i don't know where she is. i don't know what happened.

>> reporter: a few minutes after gabe surfaced the veteran diving friends looked across the water at another dive boat that anchored nearby. there on the deck they could make out someone giving cpr to a lifeless female diver. it was tina , the bride of 11 days.

>> we could see her body on the deck of the jazz ii and see physicians working on her.

>> reporter: did you see gabe?

>> i asked him if i could do anything for him. he said, well, i need a hug.

>> reporter: 19 minutes passed. the doctors still hadn't given up. coming up -- distress at 45 feet. someone pulled tina to the top. what happened underwater?

>> there's something going on here that shouldn't be going on.

>> reporter: when "mystery in the deep blue sea " continues. [ male