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Missing Divers Inquest Reconvened

September 7, 1998

CAIRNS, Australia (AP) _ Crew members on a charter boat from which two U.S. scuba divers disappeared told police they did not conduct a head count before returning to shore, an officer said at an inquest today.

But one dive instructor later changed his story, saying he had made a count, Senior Constable Steven Burgess said at the inquest into the circumstances of the couple’s death.

Thomas and Eileen Lonergan of Baton Rouge, La., were last seen on Jan. 25 during a trip to the Great Barrier Reef with 24 other divers.

Jack Nairn, owner and skipper of the Outer Edge, contacted police more than 50 hours later, after finding the couple’s dive bag on board and realizing they may not have returned from the trip.

Burgess said he secretly tape-recorded conversations with Outer Edge staff members on Jan. 27, the day the incident was reported.

In initial telephone interviews, no staff member said a head count had been conducted, he said. But dive instructor George Pyrohiw later claimed to have made one and gave no explanation for the change, Burgess said.

Nairn told police he understood that a dive instructor had counted people, but details were a ``little sketchy,″ Burgess said.

Burgess said he believed there ``may have been some untruths being told″ and that he had warned the staff members not to lie.

Although extensive searches failed to find the Lonergans, several items believed to have belonged to them have been recovered, including a swim fin, buoyancy vest, wetsuit hood and an air tank.

A diver’s writing board with the faded message ``Please help us. Find us soon before we die″ was also found, washed up in mangroves about 12 miles south of Cooktown.

After a preliminary inquest in July, the coroner found that the couple did not fake their deaths or die in a murder-suicide, but were left behind and drowned. The inquest has resumed to discern the exact circumstances.

If weather permits, it is to convene Wednesday at the reef where the couple was last seen.

Eileen Lonergan’s parents said they will accept whatever legal finding made.

``We will not necessarily be happy, but we will accept whatever is decided,″ her father, Johnnie Haines, said.

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