Ian Cole surfaced from a dive on Australia's Great Barrier Reef to find the dive ship had left without him.
Sheer panic set in as the Michigan native realized he was alone in the ocean, 30 miles from shore. First, he thought he had swam away from the boat, but he soon learned he had lived every diver's worst nightmare.
"I had already been out in the water for a few hours that day," Cole told CairnsBlog. "My first thought was that I had swam the wrong direction; my second thought was sheer panic."
U.S. & World
Stories that affect your life across the U.S. and around the world.
"At that point I was pretty tired, so when the horror of being left behind riddled my body, I began to struggle and started taking water in through my snorkel," he added.
Cole, 28, finally spotted another boat and swam 15 minutes to reach it. His rescuers told him the dive ship had left while he was underwater. The situation had a happier result than the 1998 case of Tom and Eileen Lonergan, a U.S. couple left behind on the reef and presumed eaten by sharks. A film, "Open Water," was based on their case.
Cole told NBC News that the vessel's captain called him and "was apologetic."
"I'm not trying to sue," Cole said, adding that he sought a letter of apology.
Ever since the Lonergan case, Australian dive operators have been required to do strict head counts before leaving a dive site. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that an employee who failed to perform the count was fired.