Snorkeler talks about being left behind by boat

July 5, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Ian Cole was snorkeling in the waters of Australia's Great Barrier Reef when he was left behind by the tour boat.

Cole is from Michigan, but he used to live in Chicago. He had spent months Down Under working and traveling. His last trip before heading home was to the reef.

It was the first time Cole had snorkeled, and the 28-year-old Michigan native says it will be the last time he goes with the Passions of Paradise tour company.

Ian Cole knows the outcome could have been worse. Cole is back in Chicago after spending nine months in Australia. He capped off his trip with a first-time snorkeling excursion to the Great Barrier Reef. Cole says that after spending close to two or three hours in the water, he thought it was time to get back to the boat.

"I paddled out to deeper water, where I was expecting my boat to be, and when I lifted my head up to get my bearings, I look and there is no boat," said Cole.

Cole says he began to panic, taking in water through his snorkel.

"This is a situation where you could drown, because you lose your composure, so after I was able to regain myself a little bit, I was able to see that there was another boat in the vicinity, so I made my way up to that," said Cole.

Cole asked the people on the other boat if they had seen his tour boat, and they told him it had left 15 minutes ago.

"I honestly thought the person was joking when she first said it, because she had a little bit of a wry smile," said Cole. "So I asked a second time... it wasn't until she said it again with a straight face that I'm like: 'Oh my goodness, it actually did leave me.'"

Cole later found out the Passions of Paradise employee responsible for checking off his name on the manifest had mistakenly done so without ever seeing Cole get back on the boat.

Cole says he immediately demanded an apology and a change of procedure from the company so it does not happen again. Instead, Cole received a form letter offering him a $200 gift certificate for fine dining and wines.

"I thought that was such an insult, I actually went to the mayor... and I gave it to her and asked if she could give it to a local aboriginal family and make sure it got put to good use," said Cole.

Cole says he does not plan to sue the company and that he had no intention of going public with his story until he did not get the response he was looking for from the Passions of Paradise owner.

While Cole was quickly rescued, his situation drew comparisons to a 1998 incident when an American couple was never seen again after a tour boat left them behind while they were scuba diving.

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