A California couple filed a $5 million lawsuit against a Hawaii tour company, saying they were abandoned in the ocean during a snorkeling excursion while on their honeymoon.
Elizabeth Webster and Alexander Burckle were honeymooning in Hawaii in September 2021 when they booked a snorkeling tour with Sail Maui. The pair, experienced snorkelers, purchased tickets for a snorkeling tour to Lanai, a small island near Maui.
The complaint says that after the vessel arrived at the snorkeling site, the captain told the group they’d have an hour to explore before moving to another location. Webster and Burckle allege in the lawsuit that they were given no advice about a specific return time, how to get back to the boat, or what explicitly to do in case of an emergency.
At first, the couple was snorkeling in calm and clear waters, but the water became more turbulent, the lawsuit says. They tried to swim toward the boat, but it had already begun departing for the next location, the complaint says. The lawsuit says that crew members performed three headcounts but that other passengers later said people were not made to sit or stay still for the roll call. “Our facts show that they did a headcount, came up two short, then they did another headcount, came up two short,” Washkowitz said. And on the third headcount, Washkowitz said, the crew counted a total including the missing two, reportedly the total number of guests, and left for the next location.
The couple’s lawsuit alleges that after they realized the boat had left them, they continued to swim and make distress signals, eventually ending up in deep, turbulent water.
“Plaintiffs were beginning to panic and were struggling to swim in the ocean conditions,” the lawsuit says. “They feared that drowning was imminent.”
The complaint says they eventually reached the shore of Lanai and were “fatigued and dehydrated.” Webster wrote “HELP” and “SOS” in the sand, but no boats came to their rescue. Eventually, local residents found them, allowed them to use their phones, and gave them water, the complaint says. The lawsuit says that when Webster called Sail Maui, it apparently hadn’t noticed anyone had gone missing from the tour.