A couple claiming they were left stranded in the ocean off a Hawaiian island, forcing them to swim half a mile to land, is suing a Hawaii tour company.
Alexander Burckle and his wife, Elizabeth Webster, who had snorkeled before, have filed a lawsuit against Sail Maui. They had joined 42 other passengers for a snorkeling trip in September 2021 that left Lahaina Harbor in Maui. They claim in the lawsuit that the passengers were informed the boat would remain anchored for an hour in the first ocean location before it sailed on, as the passengers were permitted to swim in the ocean. Passengers returned to the boat at different times, according to the lawsuit, which said the waves were eight feet high.
“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,” the couple’s attorney, Jared A. Washkowitz, told Buzzfeed News.
The lawsuit states that one passenger reported the couple missing when she reboarded the boat, but a crew member said the couple was aboard. The suit alleges three head counts were made, and the first two numbered 42 passengers but the third numbered 44 as the first mate did not make the passengers remain still, instead counting them as they wandered about.
“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 claims, adding that the couple “were beginning to panic and were struggling to swim in the ocean conditions.”
The couple swam for half a mile to the island of Lanai, the lawsuit states, fatigued and dehydrated, managing to write “SOS” and “HELP” in the sand.
Local residents then came to their aid. The lawsuit claims that when the couple contacted the tour company, no one was aware they had gone missing.
“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.”
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“They’re not giving any statements because they don’t want to have to relive the incident over and over again,” he added. “They’re both getting psychological treatment. They have anxiety and stress from the incident, and they’re coping the best they can.”
Jessica Herbert, a fellow passenger on the snorkeling tour, told Good Morning America that the crew members of the boat told guests “everybody was on … All accounted for, we started to take off, nobody’s looking behind them.”