Couple says snorkeling tour boat left them nearly a half mile from shore

A California couple has filed a federal lawsuit against a Maui snorkeling tour company, claiming one of their vessels left them behind in waters off Lanai.
Published: Mar. 2, 2023 at 2:10 PM EST
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HONOLULU (KHNL/Gray News) - A California couple has filed a federal lawsuit against a snorkeling tour company in Hawaii, claiming one of their vessels left them behind in waters nearly half a mile from shore.

The lawsuit said Elizabeth Webster and Alexander Burckle were on their honeymoon when they booked a snorkeling tour with Sail Maui in September 2021.

KHNL said the couple declined an interview, but their attorneys said the two were experienced snorkelers who had bought tickets for Sail Maui’s Lanai Coast snorkel tour.

The vessel left for the tour at 10 a.m. that day and arrived at the snorkeling site off east Lanai about 40 minutes later.

According to the lawsuit, the couple tried to get back to the catamaran when the waters became more turbulent, but it took off without them on board.

Attorney Jared Washkowitz said the couple tried to make it back to the vessel but noticed it seemed to be getting further and further away.

Washkowitz said the two had actually swum farther from the nearest shore while chasing the catamaran and were left at least a quarter to a half mile from land.

“It was basically a traumatizing event where they thought they were going to die and they thought their spouse was going to die,” he said.

Douglas Moore, another attorney for the couple, said Webster and Burckle were hoping for a wonderful experience on their honeymoon but were scarred by their ordeal.

“Instead they had to face death, and that’s terrible for Hawaii, frankly,” he said.

The two were able to swim about 20 minutes to a deserted shoreline, where a pair of Lanai residents eventually found them as they drove by, the complaint said.

The lawsuit alleges that the crew didn’t do a proper head count and didn’t even know Webster and Burckle were missing until the couple called the tour company from Lanai.

Jessica Hebert is a member of the Coast Guard and happened to be on the same snorkeling tour. She said the tour was too disorganized based on how two separate snorkeling stops were handled.

“Everybody kept moving, so they easily got missed,” she told KHNL. “And then how do you get to another place and again miss the head count? That’s twice.”

Hebert also didn’t realize the two had been left behind until she ran into them the next day in Lahaina and Webster recounted the experience.

Hebert said she contacted the local Coast Guard unit to report the incident.

“I called them and then the Coast Guard took it for action,” she said. “I know that they’re doing their own investigation.”

Webster and Burckle made it back to Lahaina that evening by taking the ferry from Lanai.

The couple is seeking compensation for general damages and emotional distress.

The complaint noted that Sail Maui has changed its head count protocols since the incident, but the company declined to comment because the lawsuit is pending.