Ian Cole, American Tourist, Left Behind While Snorkeling Great Barrier Reef

Posted Jun 29th 2011 08:15 AM



AP File

Ian Cole, a tourist from Michigan, was snorkeling Australia's Great Barrier Reef on Saturday when his dive tour boat left without him.

Cole, 28, went snorkeling with the Passions of Paradise in Michaelmas Bay over the weekend. At one point, he lifted his head out of the water and realized he had been left behind.

"The adrenaline hit in and I had a moment of panic, which was the worst thing I could have done at that point," Cole told The Cairns Post. "I was able to calm myself just a little bit because there was another boat still out there and I made my way to that vessel. Lucky it was there because otherwise I may have drowned. I did not handle the situation well and I was tired."

Australian officials are investigating the incident. A spokesman denies Cole was in any danger since other boats were nearby, according to the Associated Press.

Officials said that a Passions of Paradise staff member had been fired for failing to get Cole's signature to confirm he was on the board before it departed.

Cole has been in Australia for nine months, Sky News reports.

If this all sounds a wee bit familiar it's because there was a movie made about a similar incident. Tom and Eileen Lonergan, two American tourists, died in 1998 after their tour boat left them while they were scuba diving the Reef. Their story was the basis for the super-terrifying "Open Water."

The Cairns Post reports that Cole's trip was refunded and he was given a $200 restaurant voucher. Yet Cole also wants written assurance that something like this will never happen again.

WATCH the Sky News report below:

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After reading comments below and agreeing with almost all of them, I just had a few FYI's that I hope are helpful. My husband & I have also been avid snorklers for many years and have had our concerns over safety issues too. So, we invested in our own snorkel gear including the bright yellow floatation vests (easy to use - just blow air into them before getting in the water and push air back out so they pack completely flat). These make us easier to see in the water & will also keep us afloat without any effort on our part if we need help. And, believe it or not, AAA did sell us waterproof holders for our cell phone with a cord that can easily be worn around your neck & tucked under that floatation vest so it never gets in our way. it's actually not that large or cumbersome, so my husband uses his holder for his cell phone & I carry cash, credit cards, and a key (for hotel or car) in mine. I am a nurse so I am probably overly cautious, but I hope this has been helpful :)

July 07 2011 at 12:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Daryl Blain

Ok yes I wll agree that this shouldnt have happened and the compensation was not nearly enough. Head count proceedures are verry strict, and someone or several people ****** up. That will happen when you hire backpackers and pay next to nothing to do a serious job. The fact that Passions of Paradise pays better than most of the boats in that marina is the real crime. They should be held accountable for this and there should be a shake up in the industry as to who they employ, their qualifications, and most of all what they pay. Remember if you pay peanuts you get monkeys, and that is what has lead to this situation.

For anyone who thinks this man was in any danger should look up Michaelmas cay on google earth and take note that IT IS AN ISLAND!!!!!!! and the boat he was snorkelling from moors less than 100m from it. Furthermore 3 different opperators go to that verry same island daily and another 3 go there regularly and some even stay overnight so there is no way he could have spent more than 24hrs on that island total. As for him nearly drowning in most places on that reef the coral comes up to within 1m from the surface, although it is damaging to the coral he could have just stood up.

June 30 2011 at 9:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

there was a couple of movies about that subject, scary, i think one was called 'open water'.

June 29 2011 at 9:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How about having a name count like they did in school? The employees should have a list of all people aboard the ship and before they leave the area they read off each name whereas the person would respond saying "Here." The deafening silence if someone's name was called, and they didn't respond, would make everyone aware of the fact that this person was missing. Also, how about someone coming up with a waterproof cellphone that could be kept in a zipper pocket of the snorkeling gear. I don't know if it would work out in the middle of the ocean, but hopefully someone would hear them from a boat nearby.

June 29 2011 at 8:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mlondeaux's comment

Sorry mlondeaux but both your ideas are not really practical. The head counts when properly performed are very accurate. And that's the point here - the head count was not done properly and that crew member should never have been employed by that operator in the first place because it has become apparent they were not up to the task. But when you pay peanuts you get monkeys - pure and simple.

Trust me - the responding to a name call idea would not work and the complaints from passengers about how long the head counts take would make it unworkable. It would be a 3-4 times slower process to do it this way and is no more accurate. Might work for school children but wont work for tourists. It is difficult enough just to get them to stay in one spot for 2 mins while a head count is performed - I know, I've done it.

And as for your waterproof cell phone idea - um.....well......gee - where exactly are these people supposed to put them? How many zip pockets have you seen in a bikini? I could go on with other examples of why this idea is so stupid but they only give you a 3000 word limit here!

All I want to say is that this incident is a very rare occurrence because the procedure of doing the head count IS effective. The only time it doesn't work is when a crew member blatantly fails to do their job correctly which is the case in this story. Knowing what I know about the industry I would say that this crew member was 1 - an idiot, and 2 - unfit to do the job. There may have been other factors like inadequate training from the tour operator and quite honestly that wouldn't suprise me.

I do not feel that sorry for Ian Cole however. He was very late back to the boat for starters and he was snorkeling alone in an area he was not familiar with. I think he is basically an idiot and a prime example of the sort of arrogant tourist I used to deal with on a daily basis. That doesn't excuse the negligence of the crew member in any way, but I find it interesting that it has taken 4 full days for this story to come out. He obviously not satisfied with the response of the tour operator and so has gone to the media with his 'sensational' story in an attempt to milk it. Seriously, if I read the words 'shark infested waters' one more time I think I'll vomit. Not saying it has been used here at AOL but I have seen it used multiple times in other articles. You are basically lucky if you see a shark these days and if you do it is likely to be sleeping on the bottom or swimming away from you.

I'm sure the sharks will be circling soon though for Mr Cole - only these ones will be dressed in suits and carrying brief cases.

June 29 2011 at 11:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Written assurance? Just be thankful you are still alive today and not fish bait!

June 29 2011 at 8:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


June 29 2011 at 8:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Of course he was in danger. He had to fight panic, what if he had not won that battle? A refund and a lousy $200 restaurant coupon with the price of restaurant food in that area is insutling. And I am an Aussie, I used to live in Qld and I am appalled by this, by the cavalier attitude toward it and this inane reporting of the incident.

June 29 2011 at 6:48 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mclistener's comment

Indeed, Mclistener. I thought for a minute that I was the only one that took exception to them saying "he wasn't ever in any danger." Thats like saying "the man trying to commit suicide by jumping from the 7th floor of the bldg was never in any danger because the firefighters caught em in." There is a difference between pure luck and total absence of danger.

June 29 2011 at 8:27 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Had the staff member followed the proceedures it never would have happened.

Surprising that no one else noticed that Ian Cole was not on board.

June 29 2011 at 5:39 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

Up jumped the swagman srung into the billabong...you come a dancing Matilda with me...
it is lovely there...

June 29 2011 at 5:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jurmik's comment

When I was a young gilr I used to listern to this record all of the time. My father is Australian and is from Melbourne. I believe it is Waltzing Matilda though. Thanks for the great memory.

June 29 2011 at 7:12 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to slxtr23's comment

Me too. I remember this song from grade school and I'm not even Australian!

June 29 2011 at 8:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

g-day mate?

June 29 2011 at 4:12 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply