(The AEGIS Alliance) – A tour company in Hawaii is facing a $5 million lawsuit from a couple from California who allege that they were stranded in the middle of the ocean during a snorkeling tour. The couple claims that the tour company abandoned them, leading to a harrowing experience.
During their honeymoon in Hawaii in September 2021, Elizabeth Webster and her husband, Alexander Burckle, booked a snorkeling excursion with Sail Maui, a boat tour company.
Based on court documents NBC News obtained, Elizabeth Webster and Alexander Burckle were two of the 44 passengers who embarked on a Sail Maui snorkeling tour that departed from Lahaina Harbor at 10 am. The tour was slated to return around 3 pm.
According to the court documents, the captain of the boat informed the group that the vessel would be anchored in a particular location for about an hour before proceeding to the next location. However, the couple alleges in their lawsuit that the captain did not provide any specific instructions as to when they should return to the boat.
In addition to the lack of specific instructions about when to return to the boat, Webster and Burckle also allege that the Sail Maui captain did not provide any guidance on how to board the vessel or what to do in the event of an emergency.
According to a statement made by the couple’s attorney, Jared A. Washkowitz, to Insider, Sail Maui failed to establish clear snorkeling boundaries or designate a lifeguard for the excursion. The company also allegedly did not ensure that snorkelers were paired with a buddy for safety purposes.
As the waters grew choppier, Webster and Burckle attempted to swim back towards the boat. However, after approximately 15 minutes of swimming, they realized that they were “still not making progress towards the boat.”
“The water was choppy and Plaintiffs started swimming more aggressively towards the Vessel,” the lawsuit reads, according to NBC News. “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 lawsuit alleges that the Sail Maui crew conducted three headcounts, but other passengers have reportedly claimed that the crew did not instruct them to remain still during the counting process.
“Our facts show that they did a headcount, came up two short, then they did another headcount, came up two short,” attorney Washkowitz said to Insider. Washkowitz mentioned that during the third headcount, the crew counted the total number of guests and then departed for the second location.
The lawsuit states that Webster and Burckle made an effort to swim in the same direction that the boat was heading, but the water grew deeper as they swam.
“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 lawsuit notes.
The suit continues, “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.”
After struggling to make it back to the boat, Webster and Burckle finally reached the shore at approximately 1 pm. A local resident discovered the couple, who were reportedly dehydrated and fatigued, and provided them with assistance.
The couple is now seeking compensation for emotional distress and general damages resulting from the incident.
Kyle James Lee – The AEGIS Alliance – This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.