Couple rescued from shark infested waters!
A British diver has told how he and his girlfriend survived 19 hours in shark-infested waters by tying themselves together and screaming 'I love you' to stay awake.
Richard Neely, 38, and his American girlfriend Allyson Dalton, 40, spent a whole night afloat in the sea off Australia's Great Barrier Reef fearing they could be eaten alive.
Stranded in the sea for hours on end, Mr Neely reveals they could not even bring themselves to utter the word 'shark' because they were so afraid.
'I truly thought I was going to die. Sharks were on our mind the entire time - but neither of us mentioned the 'S' word,' the dive instructor told the Sunday Mirror.
'We just had to stay calm to help each other through the ordeal and not think about being eaten alive.'
They only managed to survive the night because of a tip Mr Neely remembered from former SAS soldier Andy McNab's book Bravo 2 Zero about strapping themselves together for warmth.
Tied together with a six-metre piece of rope attached to his buoy, they jettisoned their oxygen tanks and water belts so that they were lighter and could swim - or fin - as one.
'All through the night, we were sharing body warmth. If I could see Ally getting weak or Ally could see me getting weak, one of us would shout "I love you" to get a response so we knew we were awake,' he said.
'I really didn't think I could make it through the three, four, five o'clock time. Nor did Ally. We were hallucinating, seeing everything from robots to reefs and colourful fish in the sky and speaking a bit of gibberish.
'At that stage, we thought we might close our eyes and sleep forever. But I told Ally we have a young relationship and we have far too much more to do with our lives.'
The couple, who are both experienced divers, became stranded at the end of a one-hour dive at Bay Reef near Hayman Island in the Whitsundays off Queensland.
They were only 200 metres from their boat at the start of their ordeal, but could not get back because of the waves and strong winds
Shouting and whistling, they could see their fellow divers climbing back aboard and loading up their equipment but were utterly helpless as they drifted further away.
The alarm was not raised until three hours later, when an intensive search involving seven helicopters and three planes began.
Mr Neely, from Swaffham, Norfolk, says that initially, they tried to remain positive and were determined they would survive.
'From the start, I told Ally, "We are going to get through this." I told her we were going to get very, very cold and we just had to be super-strong and I convinced Ally we would survive,' he said.
It was 9.30pm before they saw the first helicopter flying overhead only for it to miss them and fly off again.
A helicopter circled the area every 45 minutes but rescuers could not spot the couple in the murky water. By 2.30am, conditions were so bad they had to stop completely.
At this point, Mr Neely reveals: "Both of us lost it. We had a lot of silence. Both of us would catch each other with our eyes shut, about to give up.'
When he feared he could be slipping away, he decided to record a video message on his underwater camera but in the end, he could not find the energy.
It was 8.40am the following morning before they were eventually winched to safety, moments after a venomous sea snake reared its head right in front of Ms Dalton.
By that time, they had drifted nine miles from their original diving spot.
The horrifying ordeal is almost an exact replica of the thriller movie Open Water, that was based on a true story - although in that case the couple were never rescued.
Husband and wife thomas and Eileen Lonergan disappeared off the Reef in exactly the same circumstances in 1998 when they were stranded during a diving trip.
Although their bodies have never been found, they are thought to have been eaten by sharks after they were abandoned.
Mr Neely said he was terrified they were going to suffer the same fate when they had not been rescued by dawn - the most popular feeding time for sharks.
"Because I'd seen Open Water, I was very concerned about being stranded in the same way, but I didn't mention it to Ally. I could bring myself to mention it because that would have been too much. As a dive guide, I know the best time to see sharks out and about is the crack of dawn.
'I knew when the sun is rising, the sharks look up to the surface and there were Ally and I floating and splashing, with my very big yellow marker buoy splashing on the surface.
'We were both very well aware of that but we didn't mention it to each other. Fortunately, we didn't see any shark fins in the water - not like in the movie.'
Looking back, he added: 'It does seem like a very surreal dream. We're both in a bit of a daze at the moment. We're both so happy to be alive.'
Ms Dalton is in no doubt why they both survived, saying: 'I think we saved each other's lives. Richard is an amazing man. I would not be here without him.'
Acting Superintendent Shane Chelepy of the Water Police said: ‘They strapped themselves together using their weight belts. They conserved energy, stayed as a pair and awaited rescue.’
Amazingly, Mr Neely has escaped death twice before - once in the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 when he was working as a dive instructor in Phuket and on another occasion when his dive boat sank and he had to be rescued.
His father Stuart told the Mirror: 'I am quite used to him being in hairy situations. It seems he is a born survivor.
'He is a very cool and calm character who knows exactly what to do in emergencies.'
Police have said the boat operators could be charged with negligence if it is found they were in any way responsible for leaving the two divers behind.
Local diving and tourism officials will want to know if procedures put in place after the Lonergans’ case were properly followed.
Their tour operator miscounted the number of divers aboard the boat and took two days to raise the alarm. The captain was later cleared of manslaughter.
Deputy Commissioner Ian Stewart said: ‘The delay is of concern and police will be looking for an explanation.’
A spokesman for the Whitsunday Charter Boat Industry Association said the region had an excellent safety record.