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The Tragic Story Of Divers Tom And Eileen Lonergan

On January 25, 1998, Tom and Eileen Lonergan left their hostel in Cairns for Port Douglas in the far north of Queensland, Australia. The pair were avid scuba-divers who had previously completed three years of work for the Peace Corps and decided to take a holiday in Queensland before returning home to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The couple and 24 others boarded the Outer Edge a boat owned by Geoffrey Nairn and headed northeast for St. Crispin’s Reef. While aboard the Outer Edge the Lonergan’s told Katherine Traverso that they were going to “go off and do their own thing”.

Tom And Eileen were not on board

Disappearance of Tom and Eileen Lonergan - Wikipedia
Credit: Wikipedia

At about 2:30 pm the boat stopped at the tip of the reef, by all accounts it was a gorgeous day and everyone dived and enjoyed themselves. About forty to sixty minutes later everyone boarded the boat and a headcount was taken, Nairn figured 26, but Tom and Eileen were not on board the Outer Edge.
The boat came back to Port Douglas and the 24 divers departed. Left aboard the boat nonetheless were two sacks belonging to the Lonergans’, a plastic sack comprising dry clothes and glasses as well as a vacant dive bag. Two tanks and weight belts were also skipping and this went unnoticed by staff aboard the Outer Edge.

January 1998

On January 26, 1998, the Outer Edge once again came back to St. Crispin’s Reef, two weight belts were found by divers and it’s possible they belonged to the Lonergans. The staff aboard the boat did not believe anything of this finding.

Eventually, on Tuesday, January 27, 1998, Geoffrey Nairn found the Lonergan’s bags amongst the boats missed and discovered items, comprising the Lonergan’s passports and other private effects. Nairn reached the Gone Walkabout Hostel in Cairns where the couple was saying. The couple had not come back. There have been issues of divers being left behind before, generally, it’s assumed that they are skipping within a short timeframe though. Long before they are eligible to drift too far away at least. Unfortunately for Tom and Eileen, the window between the boat departing without them and the call eventually being made to the police was almost 51 hours.

By January 27, 1998, an investigation performed by both air and land started and lasted all of five days with no evidence of the couple being discovered.

Eventually, on February 5, 1998, Tom Lonergan’s buoyancy control device, or BCD (a kind of vest that enables the wearer to control their buoyancy) was found washed ashore close to Indian Head, over 100km north of Port Douglas. Here is where stuff becomes slightly confused.

At some point, Eileen’s wetsuit was found as well as a second BCD (assumedly relating to Eileen) and a sole fin. There are different reports that Eileen’s wetsuit had cracks in the buttocks consistent with a shark bite. Other reports assert that all scuba-diving gear found that could be linked to the Lonergan’s was in terrific condition.

Six months had now gone by with no evidence of the couple until a dive slate (more or less a whiteboard, can be written on underwater and extraordinary for communicating while driving.) was found. The dive slate was either found near Indian Head, where the remainder of the diving gear was discovered, or 160km offshore from where the couple originally went missing. Once again there are also clashing reports on what the dive slate explained, nonetheless, despite this, I can say that the dive slate did at least say:

MONDAY JAN 26 08 AM PLEASE HELP US
COME TO RESCUE US BEFORE WE DIE. HELP!!!
This is the final anyone would discover of Tom and Eileen Lonergan.

As 1998 went on nonetheless, chilling details had started to occur about the couple, opening the door to more likelihoods about their fate. Both Tom and Eileen kept private journals that were found amongst their belongings in the hostel the subjects of which were increasingly alarming.

Six months before going missing Tom wrote in his journal “Like a student who has completed an exam I think that my life is perfect and I am ready to perish. As far as I can tell, from here my life can only get terrible. It has peaked and it’s all downhill from here until my funeral.”

Just weeks before the couple’s last dive at St. Crispin’s Reef Eileen wrote “Tom wishes to die a sharp and plainly death, and he wishes it occurs soon. Tom’s not suicidal, but he’s got a death desire that could lead him to what he wishes and I could get caught in that.”

Jobs

Tom Lonergan’s whole journal was like that, and both wrote of how they disliked their jobs. These elements, of course, open the likelihood that the Lonergans could have faked their own demise instead of a disastrous accident or elected some kind of suicide pact. With that in mind, not being comprised in the headcount would’ve been absolute help to their strategy, but if the staff aboard the Outer Edge glimpsed would their plan still have been successful?

An inquest started and on October 10, 1998, Coroner Noel Nunan discovered the couple perished either from exposure, drowning, or shark assault. Nunan also perpetrated Geoffrey Nairn to stand trial for manslaughter. Geoffrey Nairn’s trial started on November 8, 1999, and his counsel pushed the murder-suicide theory hard, which could be why it is so common now. Eventually, a jury discovered Nairn not guilty nonetheless he was forced to pay $28,000 for negligence and Outer Edge folded a few months later.

Sightings

Although I personally think the Lonergans, unfortunately, perished to exposure the theory of them fooling their own demise is extremely interesting. In the months after their disappearance, there were dozens of reported sightings of them.

A woman who occupied a bookstore in Port Douglas told the couple stepped in two days after they “disappeared” and purchased maps and postcards. As well as a sighting of the couple at a hotel in Darwin nearly 3000km away from Port Douglas.

Maybe the weirdest element of all was a phone call made to Outer Edge received by the operations manager the evening before the Lonergans vanished. He replied and on the other end was Tom Lonergan inquiring if the boat would be touring Agincourt Reef. The manager told it would and Lonergan grew anxious repeating the question many times. A Cairns Visitors Information Centre worker confirmed that she also received an identical phone call from Lonergan. Lonergan also inquired if a charter boat called the Quicksilver V visited Agincourt Reef.

Dive

Agincourt Reef is where the closest lifebuoy was discovered, over six kilometers away from where the couples dive started at St. Crispin’s Reef. Soon after the dive concluded, 24 people boarded the Outer Edge to return to Port Douglas. Later that day a fishing boat zoomed away from the region of the dive.

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