Dive boat leaves US tourist 30 miles off Australia's shore

Ian Cole had to swim to another boat after he was left behind on a Great Barrier Reef snorkelling trip.
Ian Cole had to swim for 15 minutes to another boat after he was left behind during a Great Barrier Reef snorkeling trip.CairnsBlog.net
/ Source: NBC News and msnbc.com

An American tourist on a snorkeling trip to see Australia's Great Barrier Reef was left behind by his tour boat while about 30 miles offshore, according to reports Wednesday.

Michigan native Ian Cole, 28, said he panicked when he surfaced to find the boat had left after a mistaken head-count, the local Cairns Post newspaper reported, according to the AFP news agency.

AFP said Australian dive operators were ordered to adhere to "strict head-count rules" following the 1998 disappearance of Tom and Eileen Lonergan, a U.S. couple who are thought to have been eaten by sharks after they were left behind on the Great Barrier Reef. The film "Open Water" was based on what happened to them.

'Sheer panic'
Cole told the local CairnsBlog he feared the worst when he looked up and saw he was alone on Saturday near Michaelmas Cay, in the middle of the reef.

"I had already been out in the water for a few hours that day," Cole told CairnsBlog. "My first thought was that I had swam the wrong direction; my second thought was sheer panic."

"At that point I was pretty tired, so when the horror of being left behind riddled my body, I began to struggle and started taking water in through my snorkel," he added.

Cole spotted another tour boat and swam for 15 minutes to reach it.

"I was in shock when they told me my boat had left. I thought they were kidding," Cole told CairnsBlog. "I nearly drowned. In my eyes, this is clearly a failure of the management to create an environment that promotes safety and competency."

Cole told NBC News that the vessel's skipper later called him and "was apologetic."

"I'm not trying to sue," Cole said, adding that he sought a letter of apology as well as assurances that such an incident wouldn't happen again.

The Sydney Morning Herald said the staff member on the tour boat who failed to count the number of passengers correctly had reportedly been fired.

The newspaper said the money Cole paid for the trip was refunded and he was also given a restaurant voucher worth about $210.