A British diver thought he and his American girlfriend would be eaten alive by sharks as they spent a night floating over Australia's Great Barrier Reef, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Dick Neely, 38, and Alison Dalton, 40, were plucked by a helicopter from the ocean Saturday off the eastern coast after an overnight air search.

The couple tied their wetsuits together and huddled to share body heat during 19 hours adrift in 75-degree waters, Neely told Britain's Sunday Mirror newspaper in a paid interview.

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"I truly thought we were going to die. Sharks were on our mind the entire time, but neither of us mentioned the 's' word," Neely was quoted as saying.

"We just had to stay positive and calm to help each other through the ordeal and not think about being eaten alive."

The Sunday Mirror said Neely is from Swaffham, Norfolk, but recently lived on a boat off Phuket, Thailand, where he worked as a diving instructor.

Dalton, his girlfriend of nine months, is a qualified dive master from Sacramento, California, where she runs a bar, it said.

"I think we saved each other's lives," Dalton said. "This terrible experience had definitely brought us closer together."

The pair became lost Friday afternoon when they resurfaced after diving on a reef and found themselves 200 yards from their chartered dive boat and out of sight of its crew.

A rescue helicopter pilot who winched the couple from the ocean said Sunday they were in good humor when rescued.

"Considering they were out there for 19 hours, they were in very good spirits when they got back," David Williams told Australia's Network Seven television. "They were cracking quite a few jokes about their ordeal."

Safety standards for recreational dive boat operators on the Great Barrier Reef were heightened after 1998 when a crew accidentally left behind American tourists Tom and Eileen Lonergan. The married couple are believed to have drowned or been eaten by sharks.

Neely said his shark fears were heightened by having seen the 2003 movie based on the Lonergan tragedy, "Open Water."