A California couple have filed a lawsuit against a Hawaii-based tour company after they said they were abandoned in the ocean while snorkeling and were forced to swim back to shore.
Elizabeth Webster and her husband, Alexander Burckle, filed a lawsuit against Sail Maui in February, claiming they were left abandoned in the open ocean on an excursion during their honeymoon in 2021. The couple left Lahaina Harbor in Maui with 42 other passengers at around 10 a.m. for a snorkeling tour.
Passengers were told that the boat would remain anchored in the first location for an hour before sailing on to the next location. After doing some snorkeling, the couple made their way back to the boat but weren’t making progress reaching the vessel, as the water was getting “choppy.”
Jared A. Washkowitz, the attorney representing the couple, told BuzzFeed News that the area where the group were snorkeling could “deteriorate” and quickly become rough.
“It can be really rough water even for people that are experienced in the ocean, much less visitors who may not have any ocean experience or especially not have experience in Hawaiian waters,” Washkowitz said.
According to the suit, one of the passengers had reported the couple missing when she returned to the ship; however, the crew member said they were already accounted for. The suit alleges that the first mate had conducted three head counts, with the first two resulting in only 42 passengers and the third erroneously counting all 44 present. In that time, passengers were wandering below deck because the first mate did not make the passengers stay still, the suit said.
Sail Maui did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.
As the couple continued to swim aggressively in deep water toward the boat, it left, the suit said.
"Plaintiffs realized the Vessel had left them and was not coming back for them, and they decided that their only option for survival at that point was to return to shore," the suit stated.
The nearest land was the island of Lanai, which, according to the lawsuit, tour employees had told snorkelers not to approach because of the danger of shallow reefs in the area.
They finally reached the shore of Old Club Lanai, fatigued and dehydrated, the suit stated.
Soon after, local residents noticed them in distress and gave them water and let them use their phones. When the couple called the tour company, no one was aware they were missing, the suit said. The company arranged for a ferry to pick them up from Lanai to go back to Maui.
“It's kind of scary to think what would've happened if they hadn't made it,” Washkowitz said. "I'm not sure the company would've known about it until family members started asking about it. It's just kind of a scary thought.”
The attorney added that the couple are still traumatized by the experience.
“They're not giving any statements because they don't want to have to relive the incident over and over again,” Washkowitz said. “They're both getting psychological treatment. They have anxiety and stress from the incident, and they're coping the best they can.”