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Diver ignored advice - claim

PUBLISHED: 09:25 28 May 2008 | UPDATED: 10:52 08 July 2010

A Swaffham diver who prompted a massive search operation after drifting away from his boat in shark-infested Australian waters ignored “strict and specific” safety instructions, the trip operator claimed yesterday.

A Swaffham diver who prompted a massive search operation after drifting away from his boat in shark-infested Australian waters ignored “strict and specific” safety instructions, the trip operator claimed yesterday.

Richard Neely, 38, and his American girlfriend Allyson Dalton, 40, survived a night floating off Australia's Great Barrier Reef, after becoming separated from their boat on Friday.

The couple who told an Australian TV channel of their terror at the thought of being eaten alive by sharks said they surfaced some 200m away from their diving catamaran. Mr Neely denied accusations that he ignored a safety briefing by drifting out of a lagoon and away from the dive site.

But yesterday, sailing and scuba diving company OzSail hit back at claims the couple made in the television interview that the crew “weren't looking in the right direction.”

In a statement to the media they said: “Allyson and Richard did not remain on the dive site. Allyson and Richard did not follow the clear instructions of the dive instructor.”

The operator said the couple was told to inflate their safety sausage - which is visible up to one nautical mile (1,852m) away - if they found themselves out of Gary's Lagoon where the diving started.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh this week suggested the couple should contribute to the costs of the rescue, which involved seven helicopters, three planes and six boats after it emerged Mr Neely profited from the ordeal by selling the story to a British newspaper after taking on the services of publicity agent Max Markson.

The rescue is thought to have cost up to £200,000 and Mr Neely is believed to have received a six-figure sum from selling his story.

Mr Neely added: “I don't believe they [the rescue team] weren't looking for us.”

“They might have been looking for us in the lagoon. I don't believe they were looking for us in the right direction.”

The couple were found on Saturday - nine miles from where they had been diving near the Whitsunday Islands off the eastern coast.

Simon Phelan, Richard Neely's friend at the West Norfolk Sub Aqua Club in King's Lynn said Mr Neely would have “never flouted the rules.”

“I know Richard, he's just not that kind of person. He's trained to know the rules and the dangers out there. I just can't imagine him deliberately drifting away from the boat.”

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