Alexander Burckle & Elizabeth Webster, California Honeymooning couple sue Sail Maui, Hawaii snorkeling company $5M for abandoning them in the ocean.
It was supposed to be a memorable ‘once in a lifetime excursion to paradise’ according to their lawyer, only for one Californian couple honeymooning in Hawaii to have their snorkeling trip, ‘turn to horror and panic.’
Elizabeth Webster and her husband, Alexander Burckle, of Alameda County have filed a lawsuit against travel company, Sail Maui, claiming they were left fearing for their lives when a snorkeling tour group abandoned them in the ocean, forcing them to swim more than a half a mile in choppy water to shore.
The honeymooning couple detailed the ‘terrifying’ Sept. 23, 2021, ordeal in a federal lawsuit filed last month. The couple was among 44 passengers embarking from Lahaina Harbor at 10 a.m. for Sail Maui’s, Lanai Coast snorkel tour, the suit stated.
The tour which arrived at the destination circa 10.45am, was scheduled to return to the harbor around 3 p.m, that day. For reasons not necessarily understood, the crew set out to the second destination with only 42 out of the 44 passengers it had brought to the first snorkeling adventure spot, just after midday.
The couple who are suing for negligence and emotional distress, stated that the captain informed everyone that the boat would remain anchored in the location for about an hour before moving on to a second location. Webster and Burckle said that the captain did not give a specific time as to when everyone should be back on the boat.
‘We feared drowning’
All 44 passengers entered the water around 10:50 a.m. Burckle and his wife, both experienced snorkelers who had been to Maui several times, swam north as the captain instructed.
Throughout the excursion, passengers returned to the boat at different times, the lawsuit said.
Around 11:50 a.m., Burckle and Webster started to make their way back to the boat. The lawsuit said that the water had started to get choppy and after about 15 minutes of swimming the couple realized they ‘still had not made progress towards the boat.’
‘The water was choppy and Plaintiffs started swimming more aggressively towards the Vessel,’ the suit stated. ‘At approximately 12:20 p.m., after another 15 minutes (approx.) of aggressive swimming, the Vessel was clearly farther from Plaintiffs than it was at the last time they had checked.’
The couple signaled that they were in distress and called for help in the direction of the boat to no avail. The vessel then moved on to its second location.
Burckle and his wife tried to swim in the direction the boat was moving but the water was getting deeper, according to the lawsuit. They began to panic as they struggled ‘to swim in the ocean conditions,’ it said.
The couple, about half a mile from shore, feared they would drown.
Investigation cites negligence on behalf of captain
‘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. ‘Plaintiffs were extremely fearful and nervous about the decision because they were told in the safety briefing explicitly not to swim to Lanai and that shallow reefs were in the area.’
The pair reached the shore around 1 p.m, the suit said, noting that they were dehydrated and fatigued. They received help from a resident on the island.
The suit claimed that a passenger on the boat tried to tell a crew member that Burckle and his wife had swum farther out in the ocean during the excursion, but the crew member allegedly told the passenger that they had made it back.
The suit also accused the crew of miscounting everyone who had returned from snorkeling. During an initial count, a crew member counted 42 passengers. The crew member did a second count and allegedly counted 44 passengers, however, people on the tour said that everyone was walking around and were not told to sit still while the crew member was counting.
The complaint said an investigation by the Coast Guard into the incident found negligence on the part of the captain, and that the company had since revised its procedures to require vocal contact with each passenger, according to BuzzFeed.
‘They spent a lot of time in the water and if they weren’t young, healthy people who were athletic, they probably would’ve drowned,’ a lawyer for the couple told the outlet.
Sail Maui have declined commenting on the couple’s claims, citing the open lawsuit.