A British couple on their dream scuba diving holiday had a real-life ‘Open Water’ hell after they were abandoned in shark-infested waters – for SEVEN hours.
Julie Bryne and her husband Jeff, both 52, surfaced from a dive off the coast of Mauritius to discover they had been abandoned by the tour boat.
The terrified pair were then caught in a fierce current that dragged them 12 miles from land into open water home to Hammerhead and Bull sharks.
Linking arms with three other members of a diving group, including the dive master, the five castaways treaded water fearing they could be eaten alive at any moment.
They were only plucked to safety after seven hours in the water when a passing pleasure boat spotted Jeff’s inflatable surface marker.
The couple were left severely sunburned and dehydrated, with swollen tongues due to the salt water, and now mum-of-two Julie suffers with PTSD.
Traumatised Julie, who works for the ambulance service, said: “We thought we were done for. That this was it. We’d perish in the water and our bodies would never be found.
“We saw helicopters flying overhead. We yelled and screamed but they couldn’t see us.
“When you’re in waters where you know sharks are common, your mind plays tricks.
“Each time a fish or leaf of seaweed brushed my ankle my heart would stop.
“We were constantly on the lookout for fins, but the waves were so high and the water so choppy that we couldn’t see a thing.”
The couple from Carlisle were on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the paradise resort of Veranda Paul and Virginie Hotel & Spa in Grand Gaube in June this year.
They booked a dive expedition through their hotel with dive company DiveSail Travel in the hopes of seeing stunning sea fan coral, parrot fish, lobsters and barracudas.
But unknown to the Byrnes, earlier that morning a boat had capsized in rough seas not far from the dive site, killing four people including a baby and a child.
Just half an hour in to their second dive, their dive leader signalled for them to surface due to choppy waters and low visibility, but the boat was nowhere to be seen.
Julie recalled: “Panic immediately set in, and some of the younger members of the group freaked out.
“The dive leader told everyone to remain calm and started blowing his whistle saying the boat would hear them and come back.
“But we quickly realised no one could hear us and the boat wasn’t coming back to get us.”
The group of five were caught in a rip tide and swept into open water where sharks and other predators feed.
Julie said: “I never once looked down. A German girl with us did. I kept looking over and she was looking beneath the water.
“I knew what she was searching for. We all did.
“Nobody mentioned the ‘S word’, but we were all thinking about it.”
On neighbouring island, La Reunion, swimming and surfing are banned because of fear of shark attacks – 18 attacks and seven deaths since 2011.
The dive company alerted the Coastguard who launched a search and rescue operation involving 22 boats, two helicopters, and a plane.
The group endured tropical storms, blazing heat and eight foot waves, and were unable to swim to shore due to the currents.
Julie added: “Our tongues started swelling, white and hard, cracking with too much salt water.
“Jeff kept his mask on but his face around it was burned to a crisp.
“I wanted to cry. I was so tired and frightened. It was devastating to think we were all going to die.
“Jeff, told me to stay strong and have hope but when the helicopter passed us by I was on the verge of breaking down.
“I told Jeff I loved him and he said he loved me.
After seven hours a passing pleasure boat spotted Jeff’s inflatable buoy and the group were taken to a nearby yacht club for medical help.
“Everyone was crying at first, then hugging then laughing,” added Julie.
“I was hysterical.”
Julie has since been diagnosed with PTSD and is receiving counselling, but Jeff, a site manager has already been back in the water.
He said: “I’m not letting one bad experience ruin my love of diving.”
Stephane de Senneville, director of DIVESAIL Travel, the company that contracts out trips to a third party scuba company, DiveSail Consultants LTD said: “The mistake was the decision made by the dive master, Christof Nadaud, who chose to swim away from the protection of the cove and into sharp currents which dragged them out to sea.
“Although everyone came out alive and no one was hurt – the end result was positive.”
An investigation was conducted by the Mauritius Scuba Diving Association (MSDA) who found the company negligent and DiveSail Travel has since had their license suspended indefinitely.
Hugues Vitry the president of the technical Commission of the MSDA said: “The actions of the skipper and the dive master were negligent.
“Together they put the lives of the divers at considerable risk.”