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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 September 2005, 12:22 GMT 13:22 UK
Divers survive shark-infested sea
Gordon Pratley and Louise Woodger
Coastguards said the couple were in danger from large sharks
Two British tourists who were stranded in shark-infested Australian waters for nearly six hours were lucky to have survived, a coastguard said.

Louise Woodger, 29, and her fiancÚ Gordon Pratley, 31, both from Suffolk, became separated from their dive group on the Great Barrier Reef on Saturday.

Coastguard Jon Colless said the Britons were at risk from the "large sharks".

Rescuers found the pair nearly 10km (6 miles) from where they first entered the water at Wheeler Reef.

Speaking from her home in Mildenhall, Suffolk, Miss Woodger's mother Jane said: "The first I knew was when I received a call from her, telling me she was safe.

Pair saw a shark

"It hasn't really sunk in. They had finished working in Sydney and were travelling before heading back home at some point next year."

The couple had joined a local tour and went diving on Wheeler Reef, about 90km (55 miles) from Townsville.

But strong currents pulled them away from the rest of the group.

When they resurfaced, they realised they could not see anyone else from their party, said Richard Boulton from the Townsville Coastguard.

Mr Boulton said the divers did not try to struggle against the strong current but inflated their life jackets and clung to each other.

Exhausted but unharmed

The skipper of their boat immediately noticed they were missing and alerted the police and coastguard to launch a search by sea and air.

After a six-hour search, Miss Woodger and Mr Pratley were spotted and taken to safety. Despite being exhausted, both were unharmed.

The coastguard said the pair had seen a reef shark, which is relatively harmless, but were on the look out for the dangerous tiger shark.

Miss Woodger worked as a nurse at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds and Mr Pratley worked in Newmarket before they decided to travel to New Zealand and Australia in 2002.

How the rescue operation unfolded

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