Phuket Diving Gossip
Author: Iain Page, May 2008
Rich Neeley and Ally Dalton - Alive and Finning (part 1)
As most of you may have seen the big news in diving and worldwide this month has been about the two divers stranded in the middle of the ocean at the Great Barrier Reef. What initially started as a nightmare 20 hours deserted at sea has now developed into an even larger one with accusations that the whole thing was a set up. What many of you may not realise is that Rich Neeley and Ally Dalton, the two divers in question, are actually very good friends of ours. Rich was best man at our wedding in Thailand and through him we got the opportunity to meet Ally. In fact we had the pleasure of teaching Ally her divemaster course which she completed in March.
This month's gossip column is dedicated to our good friends and in it we will attempt to answer many of the accusations against them. Ultimately whatever others are saying we hope Rich and Ally are aware of the support of their friends and family around them. We are so glad that they both managed to survive such a horrendous ordeal and look forward to having a laugh and a joke with them again in the not too distant future.
Flouting the Plan
The boat owners and others present on the boat have accused Rich and Ally of not listening to the briefings and flouting the dive plan. Anybody who knows Rich can dismiss this one immediately. We know that Rich is as safe a diver as they come. He is safety conscious almost to the point of extreme even carrying a spare air bottle with him on his dives. When it comes to dive plans I was recently concerned about the no fly time of two of our divers who were on a liveaboard that Rich was tour leading. When asked what time they usually jumped for the last dive Rich replied "I normally aim to jump at 11:58 a.m. precisely!". This just about sums Rich's planning to a tee.
Interestingly a couple of other customers on the boat have accused them of not really socializing and being more interested in the diving than the other people. Excuse me but when you have just spent 6 months entertaining customers and diving for them can anybody blame them for wanting to dive for themselves. As for the accusation that they left the lagoon to see mantas, mmmm, it's not like they've never seen any before! Rich has admitted to leaving the lagoon but after being given directions on how to exit via a hidden underwater passage. Why would the tour leader tell him about that if he did not want them to go outside?
Questions are now being asked about why they were wearing thick wetsuits with hoods in "mild" 23 degree water. Wait a minute. 23 degrees is mild? To us working in Phuket and to most divers who don't have the insulation of a blue whale that sort of water temperature is b****y freezing! Oui and I both wear long sleeved thick wetsuits in 30 degree water and Oui often wears a hood too! Rich is even more prone to the cold than us and he has been wearing a semi-dry wetsuit for as long as I have known him (and I've known him for a long time).
No Safety Sausage
Some are suggesting that neither diver was carrying a safety sausage. As House would say "Yeah, right" in that sarcastic monotonic voice. Ally once turned up for a day's diving during her divemaster course without her safety sausage and told me before the first dive. Trust me, she would never forget to take one again after that highly embarrassing moment. As for Rich he has the safety sausage of all safety sausages. It's a monster and I thought mine was big. His is so large that he can't even fit it in his pocket but leaves it dangling throughout the dive! If he truly forgot it or didn't use it until it got dark then I'll eat my sausage in public!
There are suggestions that one of them was carrying a water bottle with implications that this was to keep them going during their "fake" disappearance. I think if I was going to fake getting lost then firstly I think I would choose somewhere better than the middle of the ocean and secondly I'd take more than a bottle of water to seem me through the ordeal! If Rich did have water with him then this was probably also because of his super strict sense of safety.
Some on the boat are suggesting that they must have surfaced more than a kilometer away otherwise they would have been spotted. More than a kilometre away in one dive? They must have secret ely sneaked on underwater scooters to have managed to get that far away from the boat. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the boat allegedly did not even leave the mooring until over one hour after they were due to surface. By that time they may well have drifted out of sight.
Search, What Search?
Any PADI Rescue diver will have been taught that in the event of a missing diver the first step after checking to see if they have unknowingly returned to the boat/starting point is to notify the emergency services of a potential problem. This should then be proceeded by conducting a search both on the surface and underwater. Were Emergency Services notified immediately? When did the search actually begin? These are vital questions that have yet to be satisfactorily answered. Standing on the top deck of a boat with binoculars is not "conducting a search". Try moving the boat, putting people in the water, calling for emergency back up. There was also a dinghy present. Did anybody think to use this? What is one hundred percent sure is that nobody conducted an underwater search. Lucky that Ally and Rich's problems were at the surface or they certainly wouldn't be alive today.
Honest As They Come
Some are suggesting that they did it for the money. What has certainly surprised me by reading these types of comments on various web sites is the naivety of people towards the press. Haven't people had enough experiences to realise that most of what is written nowadays is bull***t that has been made up in an attempt to sell more papers? After all who in their right mind is going to put their life at risk for a bit of extra cash. If you look at the financial circumstances of these two then this is even further backed up. Ally is a successful business woman with enough financial backing to fly to America every month or so during her divemaster course to ensure the business was running smoothly. Rich has never been particularly interested in money. If he was then he wouldn't have chosen a profession as a dive instructor. After all you don't work for 1,500 baht a day (US$ 25), a good wage in Phuket, if you want to get rich quick!
Honesty and Integrity
All who know Oui and I hopefully realise that honesty and integrity are important to us. We often work on a trust basis in our business believing in the good side of people. The honesty and integrity of our friends has been questioned. This is upsetting to us. We ask that should anybody discuss this story and the false accusations with you that you let them know what we think with our "inside information" and personal experiences in both diving and of the couple in question. Rich and Ally, we love you both and look forward to happy days to come. Everything will blow over soon as today's news becomes old news. Come back soon and see us in the "Land of Smiles" and remember to bring yours too.
With love from Iain, Oui and Abbie xxx
If you would like to show your support for Ally and Rich or comment on this article in anyway then please contact us at email@example.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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