The 13th Floor

The True Story Behind the Movie OPEN WATER

In 2003, Lions Gate released a low budget Indie flick called OPEN WATER. Shot for just $500,000, the film went on to gross $55 million worldwide. Daniel and Susan are a young couple who head to the Bahamas for a scuba-diving vacation. Chartering a boat with several other divers, the couple decides to swim away from the group to explore on their own. When the rest of the group resurfaces, no one notices that Daniel and Susan had not yet returned to the boat. The couple eventually surfaces to find that the boat has already left without them. Stranded, they succumb to days of barracuda bites, shark attacks, and jelly fish stings finally both perishing at sea floating in the open ocean.


The story of OPEN WATER was taken from the real life events of Tom and Eileen Lonergan. Tom and Eileen had just recently returned from two years with the Peace Corps on a small South Pacific Island when they had decided to join a scuba-diving tour off the Great Barrier Reef of Australia on January 25, 1998. When the rest of the divers had returned to the boat, neither they or any of the crew had noticed that Tom and Eileen were not aboard. It wasn’t until two days later, when their belongings were found on the ship, that the crew realized they had left behind the young couple. Although their bodies were never found, they did find their diver’s slate, a board used to communicate underwater. On it was written, “We have been abandoned on Agincourt Reef by MV Outer Edge 25 Jan 98 3pm. Please help rescue us before we die. Help!!!”


Unfortunately, being left behind on a scuba diving expedition is not all that uncommon of a thing. In 2008, DATELINE interviewed Richard Neely and Ally Dalton, two divers left stranded for nearly a day before being rescued off the Australian coast. The couple tied themselves to each other as they drifted nine miles from their original dive sight. The couple failed to signal both the dive boat and several of the helicopters sent to locate them. Eventually, they were found and rescued 19 hours after they were lost.

Many theories surfaced regarding Tom and Eilieen’s disappearance. Some people believed they were never on the boat and were just running an insurance scam. However, that theory was abandoned when no one came forward to cash in their insurance policies. There was also a theory that it was all part of a murder-suicide plot. Investigators pointed to Tom’s diary which contained some very cryptic, possibly suicidal entries. This too was later abandoned. In the end, the fishing boat captain was put on trial for their deaths, but ultimately found not guilty.

So next time you’re on a boat and about to go scuba-diving with a large group, make your presence known. Tell lots of jokes, or better yet bring a cake. That way you stand a good chance of at least one of your compatriots saying, “Hey, where’s that funny guy with the cake?” Good luck.





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