Hawaii honeymoon couple says snorkel tour group left them in ocean

A California couple on their honeymoon in Hawaii said a snorkeling tour group left them in the sea for more than an hour and eventually forced them to swim to shore.

Elizabeth Webster and her husband Alexander Burckle detailed the horrific ordeal of September 23, 2021 in a federal lawsuit filed last month. The couple were among 44 passengers who embarked at 10 a.m. from the Port of Lahaina for Sail Maui’s Lanai Shore Snorkeling Tour, the lawsuit said.

The group should return to the port around 3pm

The couple said in the lawsuit that the captain informed everyone the boat would remain anchored at the spot for about an hour before proceeding to a second spot. Webster and Burckle said the captain did not give a specific time for everyone to be back on the boat.

All 44 passengers entered the water at around 10:50 am. Burckle and his wife, both experienced snorkelers who had been to Maui several times, swam north at the captain’s direction.

Throughout the excursion, passengers returned to the boat at different times, the lawsuit said.

At around 11:50 a.m., Burckle and Webster made their way back to the boat. The lawsuit said the water had started to get choppy, and after about 15 minutes of swimming, the pair realized they “still hadn’t made any progress toward the boat.”

“The water was choppy and the plaintiffs began swimming more aggressively toward the ship,” the lawsuit says. “At approximately 12:20 p.m., after a further (approximately) 15 minutes of aggressive swimming, the vessel was significantly further from the plaintiffs than when it was last checked.”

The couple signaled that they were in distress and called in vain towards the boat for help. The ship then proceeded to its second location.

Burckle and his wife tried to swim in the direction the boat was moving, but the water got deeper, according to the lawsuit. They panicked as they struggled “to swim in ocean conditions,” it said.

The pair, about half a mile from shore, feared they were drowning.

“The plaintiffs realized that the ship had abandoned 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 reads. “The plaintiffs were extremely anxious and nervous about the decision because they were specifically told in the safety briefing not to swim to Lanai and that there are shallow reefs in the area.”

The pair reached shore around 1 p.m., the suit said, noting they were dehydrated and tired. They received help from a resident of the island.

The lawsuit alleged a passenger on the boat tried to tell a crew member that Burckle and his wife swam further out in the ocean during the excursion, but the crew member allegedly told the passenger they made it back.

The document also accused the crew of miscounting everyone who had returned from snorkeling. At a first count, one crew member counted 42 passengers. The crew member did a second count and reportedly counted 44 passengers, but people on the tour said everyone was walking around and wasn’t told to sit still while the crew member counted.

Burckle and Webster could not be reached on the phone numbers given to them. They are suing for negligence and emotional distress.

Sail Maui did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.

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