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Phuket Diving Gossip

Author: Iain Page, June 2008

Rich Neeley and Ally Dalton - Alive and Finning (part 3)

Allyson Dalton - do you think the boat has gone yet?Rich Neeley - no, let's wait another 18 hours to be certain!

We have again decided to dedicate this month's gossip column to Rich and Ally to show our continual support. We are glad to say that all the accusations are dying down as this news becomes "old news", at least to the rest of the world. However, for Rich and Ally their horrendous experience is far from over. Both are suffering in many ways including sleep problems and stress, not surprisingly when you read the idiotic postings that people have made on various forums worldwide.

We had the pleasure of meeting up with Rich towards the end of June as he returned to Phuket to settle his affairs before making a permanent move to join Ally in America. It was great to see him but very sad to hear the full story. A few tears were shed on both sides!

We will start by putting the record straight which will be followed by an e-mail from Ally explaining how she is feeling and again also thanking all those for their support.

The Truth

Rich gave us a detailed analysis of the incident which was also backed up with some interesting photographic evidence. Unfortunately we are unable to show these as they are currently being used by the Australian Health and Safety Board for their investigation. We can however give Rich's breakdown:

  • Rich and Ally wanted to fit in four day dives, as had been promised prior to the trip, so requested they jump at 2 p.m. for dive 3. They agreed this with the tour leader so that they could surface at 3 p.m. giving plenty of time for a surface interval before going for a further dive at 4.30 p.m.
  • As they were the only ones interested in doing a fourth dive the tour leader advised them to jump for the third dive whilst he briefed the remaining divers. The tour leader had also explained how to find a secret passage out of the lagoon and at no time forbad them from going outside. In fact he actively encouraged them to.
  • At seven minutes to three Rich and Ally saw two other divers overhead being picked up by the dinghy. At this time they were outside the lagoon.
  • At 3 p.m. exactly Rich and Ally surfaced as agreed with safety sausage fully inflated as per usual. On surfacing they saw the other two divers stepping off the dinghy followed by the dinghy driver who moored the dinghy up and disappeared off into the boat.
  • At 4 p.m. the tour leader on the boat allegedly took a customer for a trial dive even though they were aware that Rich and Ally were missing. This was late followed by him allegedly conducting an underwater search for Rich and Ally ON HIS OWN!
  • At around 5 p.m. they saw the boat leave it's mooring for about 10 minutes, have a quick look around and then moor up again. It was around 5.30 p.m that the rescue services were finally notified that they were missing.

Rich's photos are interesting as you can actually see the boat in the distance right up until it got dark. So much for the two of them surfacing two miles away! He also showed us some distressing photos of the two of them during their ordeal which would bring tears to your eyes. He also showed us pictures of the search aircraft lights above them during the night as Rich was trying to attract their attention with the flash of his camera!

Below is Ally's e-mail. We will allow her to answer the ridiculous allegations made.

Ally's E-mail

"Our dear friends and family,

First, I would like to extend a HUGE THANK YOU to all of you who have sent texts and emails of love and support through this whole ordeal (and I'm referring to both ordeals in the water and out).  Honestly, I would not have survived without them.

So much to say, so much to say. Where do I begin?

I plan (at some point) to write an email detailing our night in the water and the events that led up to it.  Right now though, it is too painful and draining to keep reliving it.  I have been diagnosed with Acute Stress Disorder...just a fancy way of saying that the experience has left an unwanted impact on me (and Rich of course).  I am having nightmares almost every night, sometimes more than one.  I am having difficulty multi-tasking/concentrating, probably the most frustrating of all, as those of you who know me can understand.  While the thought of diving again makes me happy, I am terrified of the thought of being in open water.  Just looking at a vast portion of the ocean sends chills down my spine.  I can't even look at my dive gear.  I am certain that, in time, I will get beyond these problems and fears, but, for now, I am dealing with them as best I can.  With uncompromising love and unwavering support from Rich, and the understanding, love and support from my family and friends, I will get back to the normal "Ally".

Rich and I have been awed and amazed at the outpouring of love and support.  When the Australian media went into their feeding frenzy over what happened, Rich and I were shocked and stunned.  We were just happy and grateful to be alive.  Still lying in a hospital bed with IV's in our arms, the British Consulate calls Rich and asks him to speak to someone from the Daily Mirror.  They tell him they will pay him 5,000 pound,uh OK??  Somehow this one decision turned into a storm that would overwhelm us.  Starting at 1am, our friend Danielle, whose house we had been staying in, started screening call after call from media organizations wanting to speak to us.  How novel we thought, people want to hear our story.  However, this soon turned into a nightmare as offers (and threats) were thrown at us for our story.  It was all overwhelming.  We wanted our story to be heard, but this was turning into a circus.

When Max Markson, a famous (at least in Australia) media agent, contacted Danielle, offering to take on these vultures, we jumped at the chance to free our friend and ourselves from dealing with these cretins.  Little did we know that by speaking to the Daily Mirror and taking on Max would cause such consternation among the Australian press, which then spread to the rest of the world.  Then to rub salt into the wound, some people on the boat and the boat company itself started a smear campaign against us.  Shocking, but not surprising.  I am amazed at how people can misconstrue facts, twist reality and distort the truth for personal gain or self preservation. 

These are the facts:

  • The dinghy did not come to pick us up after our dive as planned (and as they had with other divers).
  • Neither the boat nor dinghy moved to look for us until 1 ¼ hours after we surfaced.
  • The crew did not notify emergency services until 2 ½ hours after we surfaced.
  • We did not take water bottles on the dive.
  • We wore the same wetsuits and gear we always wear (not suspiciously thick wetsuits and hoods as has been reported!)
  • We did not have a shark repellant device.
  • We were not "looking for manta rays and other exotic fish".
  • We did not break any rules of the dive plan or of the tour leader; we did exactly as we were instructed.
  • Rich, not I, was paid 5,000 pounds for his interview with the Daily Mirror, NOT $1,000,000 as has been reported.

There is an ongoing investigation by Workplace Health & Safety in Australia which, we are confident, will show just how negligent the boat operators were.  Whether the press will report its findings is another story altogether...let's just say, I'm not holding my breath.

Through it all, we continue to remind ourselves that we are truly lucky to be alive.  Sitting in the helicopter, after being rescued, we realized how difficult it truly was for them to spot us.  It is huge ocean out there...we were just 2 black dots in rough conditions.  It's amazing we were found.

I am so blessed to have survived the ordeal, but especially blessed to have Rich in my life.  I can honestly say that, were it not for him, I would not have made it.  He wouldn't let me give up, even when I thought I couldn't continue, he was there to keep me going.  When I wanted to close my eyes and just go to sleep, he would rouse me.  His constant words of encouragement gave me the strength, I didn't know I had, to fight for another hour.  I consider myself a strong woman, but this time I needed, and was given, more strength than I ever thought possible.  I am eternally grateful to Rich for this gift.  I hope you all will share the love and support you have shown me with him.

I have seen the best and worst of human nature.  I have come as close to death as I ever care to be.  There is still so much more life yet to be lived and I plan to do this with gusto.  I cherish my friends and family even more as a result, but admit I have little compassion for certain others.  Thank you for being part of my life.  If you've received this, I consider you a dear friend and I thank you for your love and support.

I know there are still many questions you may have.  Dateline NBC is doing an hour long program on what happened to us.  It will be aired on Friday, June 27 th at 10pm PST.  I'm hopeful it will be a fair, accurate and honest representation of what happened.  For my friends overseas, I promise to send DVD copies.  This, at least, saves me from repeating the same story over and over.  If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.  I'd rather you ask than not.

For now, I am trying to get back to a normal routine at the Fox & Goose.  Dino, Mark, Pete and Andrea (my management team) have done an amazing job while I have been away.  I can't imagine how different things would have been without their capable hands running the business.

I hope to catch up with all of you individually as soon as possible!

With gratitude and love,
Ally xoxo

And Finally...

We end this column with a final, sad note. Unfortunately two of our previous customers who were taking their divemaster course at the same time as Ally have decided to post malicious comments on various web sites about Ally. These include her supposedly solo diving and showing disregard for safety precautions. When we were made aware of these comments we were surprised and shocked. As her instructor I can guarantee that Ally was as safety conscious as they come and at no time went solo diving. We would not have allowed this even if she had wanted to!

Ally was an outstanding divemaster trainee. She worked extremely hard and, if she had planned to hang around Phuket on a more permanent basis then you may well have seen her also become a permanent part of our team. We can only assume that the malicious comments made were down to jealousy of Ally's superior performance during the course.

Your Say

If you would like to show your support for Ally and Rich or comment on this article in anyway then please contact us at info@sharkeyscuba.com. We are sure Rich and Ally would love to receive your e-mails and guarantee to forward them on immediately.

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