Two French tourists, both in their seventies, died while snorkelling on Australia's Great Barrier Reef on Wednesday (16 November). The man and the woman – aged 76 and 74 – suffered cardiac arrests in shallow waters at Michaelmas Cay, a popular tourist spot 40km (25 miles) northeast of Cairns, at about 11am local time (1am GMT).

According to authorities, another tourist also suffered a cardiac arrest but was saved by trained staff on-board the Passions of Paradise vessel. All the three tourists – who were not related – were part of a 21-member group of French travellers.

"The two people indicated they had pre-existing medical conditions before they got in the water. The company actually had guides in the water swimming around the snorkellers making sure they were OK," said Col McKenzie, chief of the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators.

He noted, "It was a perfect storm of a fatal scenario with three French tourists suffering heart attacks at the same time. Crew on the Passions boat worked to save them all, including CPR and using oxygen, but tragically two are dead. There was a doctor onboard the nearby Ocean Spirit who declared them dead."

The third traveller was taken by boat to Cairns base hospital.

Chief Executive Officer of Passions of Paradise, Scotty Garden, condoled the family members of the deceased and said that the company would offer assistance to the other travellers as well. "It is very stressful for our staff but their priority has been with helping the group," he said.