Two French tourists with pre-existing medical conditions have died while swimming at Michaelmas Cay in the Great Barrier Reef off Australia, officials say. A third tourist, also from France, also suffered a medical episode.
The incident happened at about 11 a.m. on Wednesday when elderly tourists from France were snorkeling in shallow waters at Michaelmas Cay, about 40 kilometers northeast of Cairns. Three of them suffered some sort of medical episode, believed to be heart attacks in at least two of them.
The three victims, all in their 70s, were suffering from pre-existing medical conditions and were traveling on the Passions of Paradise vessel, which was carrying 21 elderly French tourists as well as trained staff members.
“The Passions of Paradise lookout on the beach noticed a man floating in the water and pulled him to the sand cay where he performed CPR,” the tour company said in a statement. Another lookout on the boat then noticed a woman floating in the water and pulled her onto the vessel.
“Resuscitation efforts were not successful despite the company having and using oxygen and defibrillation equipment,” said Col McKenzie, the executive director of the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators (AMPTO). Both were pronounced dead by a doctor from another vessel.
A short time later, a third passenger on the Passions of Paradise also suffered a medical episode but survived. Initial reports indicated that the third victim had also suffered a heart attack, but McKenzie said that had not yet been confirmed and noted that it may have been an anxiety attack.
“This person appears to be ok and is being monitored,” he added.
The identities of the victims were not immediately released, but McKenzie described the deceased as a 76-year-old man and a 74-year-old woman. “Accidents like this are a tragedy for the surviving family members, the crew and the passengers,” he added.
Water police are expected to launch an investigation into the sudden deaths.
The Passions of Paradise, which has taken over 400,000 people to the reef since 1989, had only one prior fatality until Wednesday’s incident. The previous incident happened in 1997 when an 80-year-old person died of a heart condition.
The Great Barrier Reef, which is often referred to as ‘one of the seven natural wonders of the world’, is the world’s largest coral reef system, composed of nearly 3,000 individual reefs and stretching over 2,300 kilometers (1,400 miles) nearly parallel to the coast of Queensland.
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