BRISBANE — Two American divers who went missing for seven hours in shark-infested waters on the Great Barrier Reef on Friday ignored instructions, dive boat operators said.
The pair – a man and a woman believed to be in their 40s – failed to surface at the end of an hour-long dive on Ribbon Reef Number 10, off the coast of Lizard Island, about 10am.
They were plucked from the water after being found floating eight nautical miles north of the dive site about 5.10pm.
The boat’s operator, Mike Ball of Mike Ball Dive Expeditions, said the pair did not require any medical treatment and had returned to the dive charter on board Spoilsport.
The massive rescue effort, which involved five helicopters, one light plane and three boats, cost more than $50,000.
As part of their $4500, five- day package, the divers each paid $16 towards personal injury insurance.
Mr Ball said the small levy was nothing compared with the trouble the pair had caused by deliberately straying from the dive plan and ignoring safety procedures. “The dive plan was to go down a descent line and into the reef at a depth of 12 metres,” Mr Ball said.
“On the way down, one of the divers let go of the rope and didn’t follow the directions to the reef, but let himself drift along with the current in deeper water than planned.”
Mr Ball said the pair were experienced divers who should have known better.
“You plan your dive and then you dive the plan,” he said. “But that is not what has happened.”
Last year, American Alison Dalton and Briton Richard Neely were missing for 19 hours after drifting away from a dive boat off Hayman Island.
And yesterday, two divers were missing for about an hour off Moreton Island, in Moreton Bay, before an aerial search located them.
Col McKenzie, executive director of the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators, said the industry had little patience for tourists who did not follow instructions.
“The divers will blame the operators, there is no doubt about that,” Mr McKenzie said.
“It’s about time some of the divers were held accountable for their own actions and stupidity.”
Mr McKenzie said the American pair had made classic mistakes, including failing to activate their location markers as soon as they realised they had strayed from the dive group.
He said Mike Ball Expeditions, which had operated in north Queensland for 40 years, was being investigated by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland.