A BRITISH couple on their dream scuba holiday have told of the moment they thought they had been left for dead after being abandoned in shark-infested waters for seven hours.
Julie Byrne and husband Jeff, both 52, were diving off the coast of Mauritius when they surfaced, realising their dive group had been left behind by the tour boat.
Jeff Bryne and wife Julie survived being stranded at sea for more than seven hours in shark infested waters
The couple had been diving off the coast of Mauritius with Julie, pictured, the day before being stranded
The abandoned group were rushed to a nearby club for medical treatment
The couple, with three other divers, were then pulled by a strong current that dragged them 12 miles from land into open water, the home of hammerhead and bull sharks.
Julie said she had been left traumatised after the harrowing experience.
She 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 managed to link arms with the three other divers who had been left abandoned, with the group treading water for seven hours.
They were only saved when a passing boat spotted Jeff’s surface marker buoy, a bright marker that is used by divers to attract attention.
But the group were left with severe sunburn as well as struggling with dehydration and swollen tongues due to the salt water.
The couple were spotted when a passing boat saw the surface marker buoy
Julie Bryne, 52, moments after being rescued 12 miles off the coast of Mauritius
Julie has not been in the water since the horrific incident
Julie, pictured diving the day before the harrowing experience, said the group had thought they were going to die
Julie, a mum of two, now also suffers PTSD.
The couple had travelled to the area in the hope of seeing coral, parrot fish, lobsters and barracudas.
Booking with the dive company DiveSail Travel through their hotel, the couple set out for a dive.
But they had no idea that earlier that morning, a boat had capsized in rough seas not far from the dive site, killing a baby and a child.
The conditions also plagued the dive trip, with the dive leader signalling for the group to surface due to choppy waters and low visibility just half an hour into their second dive.
But when the divers surfaced, they realised they had been left abandoned in the water.
Julie said: “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, who were unable to swim ashore due to the strong currents, were forced to struggle with tropical storms, blazing heat and eight foot waves.
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She said she never looked down but one of the divers, a German girl was continuously peering into the water.
She said: “I knew what she was searching for. We all did.
“Nobody mentioned the ‘S word’, but we were all thinking about it.”
On a 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.
One of the rescue party signalling to a passing helicopter after the group was picked up after being left in the water for seven hours
Julie and Jeff Bryne posing at their resort in Mauritius, told each other they loved each other when they thought they were going to die
The view from the couple’s hotel, with the couple having booked the trip through their hotel
Divers on their way to the site with the dive company now suspended indefinitely
Julie said: “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.”
The group were eventually found and taken to a nearby yacht club for medical attention.
Julie said: “Everyone was crying at first, then hugging then laughing.
“I was hysterical.”
She has not been in the water since but her husband Jeff said he would not let one bad experience ruin his love of diving.
Jeff pictured at the couple’s resort before they were left stranded in shark-infested waters
Helicopter searching for the lost divers in the shark infested waters with the group having desperately tried to get the attention of search parties
The couple from Carlisle were on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday
A topographical map of Coin de Mire, the area in which a couple were stranded in shark infested waters
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.”