Pictured: Female British diver clings to life in a shark-filled sea during amazing three-day ordeal
As she clings desperately to a log in pitch darkness, terror in her eyes, British diver Charlotte Allin fears she will not make it through the night.
This moment was captured on camera by her boyfriend James Manning as their five-strong party drifted helplessly in shark-infested waters after being separated from their boat.
‘There were times when I thought we would die,’ admitted 25-year-old Charlotte yesterday as she described her ordeal to the Daily Mail.
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Clinging to life: Charlotte pictured by her boyfriend James Manning
‘But I quickly brushed those thoughts from my mind. We had to keep our spirits up. I knew that if we lost hope of being found, that would be it. Jim was a tower of strength, both in the water and back on land. He assured us all that we would get out of this predicament.’
Charlotte and 30-year-old James, a former Royal Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, were recovering yesterday from cuts, bruises and the effects of dehydration after a three-day ordeal missing in the dangerous waters off Indonesia.
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Survivors: Charlotte Allin, Jim Manning and instructor Kathleen Mitchinson
The five divers are taken to safety
Charlotte, left, and her four friends receive medical treatment
But they were able to piece together a dramatic hour-by-hour diary of the nightmare which saw them carried away by the current and eventually stranded on an island with a deadly Komodo dragon – the world’s biggest lizard.
After taking diving courses in Thailand the couple, both from Devon, had worked their way through Indonesia before they reached Flores, the mysterious island where scientists claim to have found the sub-human they have named the Hobbit.
It is where pygmy elephants once roamed and where, on a tiny island to the west, the Komodo dragon still roams.
Charlotte Allin, left, Frenchman Lauren Pinel and Swede Helena Naradainen on the beach On Rinja island after spending 9 hours drifting in the sea off Flores, Indonesia
Divers aboard the Reefseekers boat shortly before they went missing
James Manning and his girlfriend Charlotte Allin smile on arrival in Bali’s Airport, Kuta, Indonesia, today. All five Europeans who went missing while scuba diving in treacherous waters were found alive Saturday on a remote island
The couple made contact with another Briton, Kath Mitchinson, who runs the Diveseekers Company on Flores.
They left for what was to be a three-day adventure among the spectacular coral reefs. Their first two days of diving left them awestruck by the underwater beauty. Then, last Thursday morning the couple set out with Miss Mitchinson, a French diver named Laurent Pinel and a Swedish woman, Helena Neradairen.
‘We had a wooden dive boat and spent the early part of the day on a walking trip before starting that day’s dive,’ says Charlotte, whose family live in Bideford. ‘We explored an underwater site called Hanging Garden, then at 3.05pm we went down a second time to explore an area called Manta Corner.’ James took pictures with his waterproof camera.
Charlotte Allin and Kathleen Mitchinson on the beach on Rinja Isand
Thursday, 4.10pm: The party surface after 65 minutes, as arranged, 30 yards from the boat but the crew have their backs to the divers and do not see them. ‘We blow whistles but still the crew don’t respond, so we put up an inflatable 4fthigh orange marker buoy, again to no avail,’ says Charlotte.
‘We have no cause for concern at that stage. We are sure they will see us and pick us up. But it doesn’t happen – the five of us find ourselves being swept further from the boat.
‘At 5.15pm we can still see the boat in the distance, but it is impossible for the crew to see us. We decide to swim for land, but the current takes us around the first island we head for.’
Alive: Charlotte Allin
6pm: Darkness begins to fall. ‘We all agree as we swim together, kept afloat with our dive vests, that we have to make land,’ says Charlotte. ‘But the currents have a different idea and push us around each island we approach.’
7pm: ‘We see lights of fishing boats but our shouts and whistles fail to attract attention. We are all becoming weak. Then a new problem arises – the cold. While we had been warm as we dived, being exposed from the chest up, with water splashing down inside of our wetsuits, we begin to feel a chill running through our bodies.
‘Weakness is going to be our main problem – will we have the strength to make it through the night? I am wondering that myself and I suspect the others are thinking the same.’
7.30pm: ‘We have an incredible stroke of luck. A dead tree trunk, about 6ft long, drifts by. We grab it and use it as a buoy to cling on to.
‘What is frightening me is the night. I don’t want to be out there in the dark, but we all know no one will be able to find us and we just have to hang on to that log. I hook my arm through the back of Jim’s wetsuit gear and my other arm is around the log.’
8pm: ‘The wind stirs up waves that crash over us. Helena, the Swedish girl, is badly seasick and getting weak and we have to make sure she hangs on to the log. But nobody is crying or grumbling – we just try to keep talking about anything that comes into our minds to keep everyone awake.’
10.45pm: ‘The sea becomes calm as the wind drops. By now we have discarded our weight belts, which were dragging us down. But we are suffering from cramp from constantly kicking our flippers, trying to force the log to take us to land.’
Midnight: ‘Jim and Kath decide to break away from the log and swim to land, believing they can see the outline of a white beach in the darkness. They are almost dashed against rocks by the surf and Kath has to return to the log. But Jim manages to make it to the beach – which turns out to be nothing but light-coloured large boulders and rocks. He believes the group can get in and eventually manages to help us all in to the beach, particularly Helena who is now pretty weak.’
Friday, 12.52am: ‘We’re all assembled on the beach, hugging one another, collapsing on to our knees,’ says Charlotte. ‘We’ve been in the water for nearly nine hours.’
By sunrise, the group are all bitterly cold after lying in their soaking wetsuits all night in the hope that it would be warmer than taking them off.
‘Jim decides to try to find help after Kath tells him she believes we are on Pandaua island, where there will be fishing boats moored off one of the bays,’ says Charlotte. In fact they are on a deserted island called Rindja – one of the homes of the Komodo dragon.
Kath tries to accompany Jim because she speaks the local language but as they scale a steep slope he tells her to go back because it is too dangerous.
It is now that he has to use all his training from his days in Iraq and Afghanistan as a member of 59 Independent Commando Squadron RE.
He has taken off his wetsuit and is now in an undervest, shorts and slim rubber diving boots.
8am: He is almost at the top of a cliff when a snake wriggles in front of him, causing him to reel back and almost fall.
10am: He suffers a second shock – knocking back a branch he almost disturbs a huge bee colony. ‘If the branch had hit them they would have gone berserk. It terrified me much more than the snake.’ There are dried stream beds all around but not a drop of water to be had.
11am: Back on the beach, the other four are desperately trying to make a fire, using a magnifying glass Kath had in her diving gear, but all they manage to make is smoke and no flame. ‘The thirst is terrible,’ says Charlotte.
‘My lips are swollen and white. It is just unbearable and we know we have to try to find water. There was shade from big rocks in the morning but the sun is getting higher and we are losing that shade. There are no trees. The sun is very, very, hot.’
Noon: ‘I find a coconut and break it open hoping to find milk, but it is rotten inside. Desperate for food and water, we turn to scooping mussels and other things off the rocks. At least we are getting protein and there are some juicy bits.’
1pm: The party build the letters SOS with huge white rocks on the side of the hill, hoping to attract a boat. ‘It is very hard work,’ says Charlotte. ‘The sun is beating down and the rocks are very heavy, but we have to do it to attract attention.’
2pm: As thirst attacks Charlotte again, Kath tells her: ‘Pretend that you have just had a long, cool, icy, drink.’ It helps her overcome the craving for water.
4pm:By now Jim has scrambled down cliffs and tried to make his way around the coast by clambering over rocks and swimming, but seems to be getting nowhere. It is dangerous work. Several times he knows he could have been smashed against rocks. And exhaustion is driving him to his knees.
‘One thing keeps me going,’ he says. ‘One phrase, over and over again, “You’ve got to get help for Char and the others. They are depending on you. You’re the scout – do your work”.’
At the same time, back at the beach, a Komodo dragon lumbers into view. More than 10ft long, it can easily kill a human with its massive jaws and toxic saliva. In its mouth is the wetsuit Jim left behind when he began his scouting.
The giant lizard almost bites Helena in the head as it snatches at her wetsuit hood, lying beside her. ‘We eventually chase it off using stones and Kath pokes at it with a stick,’ says Charlotte.
British divers Charlotte Allin and Jim Manning, diving at another site in Indonesia, before their fateful trip
5pm: ‘We’re desperate on the beach and we know by now we will have to spend another night in this rocky, isolated place, uncertain whether a major search has been launched for us. A plane has passed overhead but it didn’t see us. We’ve also seen boats in the distance, but again our frantic waving, whistling and calling went unheeded. I don’t know if Jim is alive or dead.’
5.15pm: On a rocky outcrop around the coast, Jim sees two people on a beach. ‘I yell and scream at them but they don’t turn around. Finally I realise they are just two rocks that look like people.’
6.45pm: He settles in for the night. He does not know what has happened to Charlotte and the others. He has gone too far to turn back. He just knows he must stay warm, find some strength to carry on looking for help when the next morning breaks. Back at the beach, the four try to sleep and ignore their crippling thirst.
Dawn: On their different parts of the island, the five pray for rain and rescue.
12.30pm: Jim’s prayers are answered. A speedboat comes into the bay, heading towards the rock on which he is lying. People on board are waving, cheering. There is Charlotte waving among them. The ordeal is over. German Frank Winkler, who runs another dive club, had worked out where the divers could be, taking account of the current and tides, and his calculation proved right.
Yesterday: Charlotte, Jim and Kath sit in a jungle clearing on an island off Flores. They are cut and bruised. Their throats are scarred from the chafing of their wetsuits. But they are alive.
On Monday Jim and Charlotte will fly home and start looking for work. ‘It will be lovely to see Devon again,’ says Charlotte. ‘I thought of the green hills and the moors when I was in the water. It will be lovely to touch it.’
Toxic saliva: Komodo Dragon
Enlarge British diver Kathleen Mitchinson hugs her husband Ernest Lewandowski after being rescued