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Is Open Water Based On A True Story?

September 20, 2020
4 min read

‘Open Water’ tells the story of a couple who are stranded at sea, with no boat to find refuge on and nothing to hold on to. Their day starts with the promise of enjoying scuba-diving, but it turns awry when they discover that they have been left behind by the boat that was supposed to take them back. Their tale is scary and spine-tingling and makes us wonder if things like this really happen to people. Is ‘Open Water’ based on a true story. Let’s find out.

Is Open Water based on a true story?

Yes, ‘Open Water’ is based on a true story. The couple in the movie, Daniel and Susan, is based on a real-life couple named Tom and Eileen Lonergan. After serving for two years with the Peace Corps on a South Pacific island, the couple was on their way back when they decided to stop for a scuba-diving tour in Australia. It was the beginning of 1998 and the Great Barrier Reef seemed a captivating site to dive at. The couple were experienced and much like Daniel and Susan in the film, they decided to do their own thing while the rest of the group stuck together for the tour.

When the rest of the divers returned, the boat took off, and no one noticed that Tom and Eileen had been missing. For two days, the couple drifted about in the sea until someone realized that they were not there. Their bags with their personal belongings, including wallets and passports, were found on the boat, which is when the alarms rang. A search party was organized and for three days, they kept looking for the couple, but they were never found. Their diver’s slate was discovered after some time in which they had written their call for help. “We have been abandoned on Agincourt Reef by MV Outer Edge 25 Jan 98 3pm. Please help rescue us before we die. Help!” it said. No one knows what happened to them or how they died, but conclusions were made from their gear which was found later. Their scuba vests were found, but without any sign of damage that would suggest that they were attacked by sharks. The tears in their gear were blamed on the reefs and barnacle growth. Their air tanks were also discovered sometime after.

The incident led to a huge outcry from the couple’s family, and the skipper of the boat, Geoffery Nairn, was put on trial. He was charged with unlawful killing, where he was held responsible for the safety of the passengers. However, Nairn pleaded not guilty. He was not convicted for the death of Tom and Eileen, but the company had to pay the price. They pled guilty to negligence, for which they had to pay a hefty fine and were run out of business. The incident also sparked the need for stricter regulations for companies providing scuba-diving tours.

Writer-director Chris Kentis came across the story while reading a magazine article and decided to make a film on it. He used the premise of their tale but decided not to go into too many details regarding the things that had come out about the couple. He didn’t want to represent their relationship, so their names were changed, as was their overall dynamic in the story. It was also out of respect for the couple, who were surrounded by many controversial theories in the aftermath of their disappearance. Some people believed that they went missing intentionally and that it was the part of their plan to start anew somewhere else. Some others believed that Tom had suicidal thoughts and this incident was a murder-suicide case. But all of these were mere speculations, and Kentis didn’t want to encourage it by bringing it into the film.

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