Diving couple asked to pay back cost of rescue
by Richard Maxton
The divers who spent 19 hours drifting in shark-infested waters on the Great Barrier Reef have sold their story to a British newspaper, prompting Queensland premier Anna Bligh to call for them to pay back some of the cost of their rescue operation.
British tourist Richard Neely, 38, and American partner Alison Dalton, 40, were rescued on Saturday morning after spending the night floating 15km out to sea off the Whitsunday region.
A massive air-and-sea operation, involving seven helicopter, three planes and a fleet of search boats were used to find the divers.
In a paid interview with British newspaper the Sunday Mirror, Neely and Dalton descirbed their nightmare ordeal.
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.”
However Mrs Bligh has suggested Mr Neely and Ms Dalton should compensate the state for some of the $100,000 cost of their search-and-rescue operation after it was revealed the couple may have deliberately skipped a pre-dive briefing and ingored strict instructions to immediately surface if they left the dive site.
Mrs Bligh said that the couple should consider contributing some of the money they were paid for their interviews to the departments who orchestrated their rescue.
“If they are going to profit from their story I don’t think a contribution would go astray.”
The couple surfaced too far from their chartered boat on Friday for those on board to see or hear them.
Queensland Water Police acting superintendent Shane Chelpey says an investigation has begun into what went wrong with local CIB working with local water police and members from the office of workplace health and safety.