Sunday, May 25, 2008

Divers saved in Whitsundays asked to pay up

AUTHORITIES want a couple saved from shark-infested water to cough up for the rescue operation, as doubt emerges over their story.

An international bidding war has broken out, offering Richard Neely and his partner Allyson Dalton as much as $250,000 for interviews and pictures of their survival against the odds, as fellow divers cast doubt on their story.
Authorities have called on the couple to pay back some of the estimated $100,000 cost of their rescue operation.
A massive air-and-sea search involving seven helicopters, three planes and a flotilla of boats was used to find the divers, who spent 19 hours lost at sea.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh suggested the couple could make a contribution to their rescue costs: "If they are going to profit from their story I don't think a contribution would go astray."
Rules broken
Mr Neely, a dive instructor and Ms Dalton, a dive master, have been accused of deliberately flouting an onboard dive briefing which may have resulted in them spending 19 hours adrift in shark-infested waters.
Mr Neely, 38, and Ms Dalton, 40, both with 2000-plus underwater dives, tied themselves together and filmed each other waving desperately to rescuers.
The couple miraculously survived being swept 15km out to sea after surfacing at the wrong spot 200m away from the dive boat Pacific Star following a dive at Bait Reef, near Hayman Island in the Whitsundays, about 2.30pm on Friday.
Snakes and sharks
In a paid interview with the UK's Sunday Mirror, Mr Neely and Ms Dalton told how they came face-to-face with venomous sea snakes during their ordeal.
Mr Neeley said: "I truly thought we were going to die. Sharks were on our mind the entire time - but neither of us mentioned the 'S' word. We just had to stay positive and calm to help each other through the ordeal.
"We were shouting and whistling but nobody saw us. We saw other divers climbing back on to the boat. The boat stayed where it was, on a mooring, but we just kept drifting further away. There was nothing we could do."
Both divers - with the only visible signs of their ordeal red chaffing on their necks from wetsuits - stayed bunkered down in a friend's Townsville home last night and declined to speak to the media.
They have retained the services of publicist Max Markson.
Couple 'upset'

Friend Danielle Scott-Flanders, speaking on behalf of the couple recuperating in her home, said they had been upset by reports "they did anything wrong".
But fresh evidence indicates the buddy pair ignored strict briefing rules to immediately surface if they left the dive site - in a protected reef known as Paradise Lagoon - and got caught in strong current on the outer reef wall.
Another passenger onboard the Pacific Star has cast doubt over the couple's version of events, saying it was unlikely the couple surfaced anywhere near the boat before being washed away and that they had been dismissive of safety instructions prior to the dive.
Matt Cawkwell, one of 18 tourists aboard the dive boat, told The Australian it was unlikely the couple could have surfaced 200m from the vessel as claimed and not been seen.
"There were about 22 people standing on the roof looking for them," he said.
"There were at least four pairs of binoculars, and it wasn't that rough. There's no way they came up near the boat or still in the lagoon."
Diver's boasts

Mr Cawkwell said Mr Neely had boasted to other tourists on the three-day, three-night diving charter about his experience, and had insisted on diving alone with Ms Dalton, not four other people as had been reported.
Mr Cawkwell also told The Australian he heard Ms Dalton pressuring her partner to take their third dive of the day, even though conditions were getting worse.
"There were things he wanted to do and nothing was going to stop him. He was told to stay in the lagoon, but there's no way he could have done that and got lost. The other four divers came back when the currents started to pick up, but you got the impression he thought he knew better."
The incident is the second time Mr Neely has been lost at sea, once spending eight hours in the water off Thailand after the boat he was on sank. He also survived the Boxing Day tsunami.


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