A California couple honeymooning in Hawaii said a snorkeling tour group abandoned them in the ocean for more than an hour, ultimately forcing them to swim to shore.
Elizabeth Webster and her husband, Alexander Burckle, detailed the terrifying Sept. 23, 2021, ordeal in a federal lawsuit filed last month. The couple was among 44 passengers embarking from Lahaina Harbor at 10 a.m. for Sail Maui's Lanai Coast snorkel tour, the suit stated.
The group was scheduled to return to the harbor around 3 p.m.
The couple said in the lawsuit that the captain informed everyone that the boat would remain anchored in the location for about an hour before moving on to a second location. Webster and Burckle said that the captain did not give a specific time everyone should be back on the boat.
All 44 passengers entered the water around 10:50 a.m. Burckle and his wife, both experienced snorkelers who had been to Maui several times, swam north as the captain instructed.
Throughout the excursion, passengers returned to the boat at different times, the lawsuit said.
Around 11:50 a.m., Burckle and Webster started to make their way back to the boat. The lawsuit said that the water had started to get choppy and after about 15 minutes of swimming the couple realized they "still had not made progress towards the boat."
"The water was choppy and Plaintiffs started swimming more aggressively towards the Vessel," the suit stated. "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 couple signaled that they were in distress and called for help in the direction of the boat to no avail. The vessel then moved on to its second location.
Burckle and his wife tried to swim in the direction the boat was moving but the water was getting deeper, according to the lawsuit. They began to panic as they struggled "to swim in the ocean conditions," it said.
The couple, about half a mile from shore, feared they would drown.
"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 suit stated. "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."
The pair reached the shore around 1 p.m, the suit said, noting that they were dehydrated and fatigued. They received help from a resident on the island.
The suit claimed that a passenger on the boat tried to tell a crew member that Burckle and his wife had swum farther out in the ocean during the excursion, but the crew member allegedly told the passenger that they had made it back.
The document also accused the crew of miscounting everyone who had returned from snorkeling. During an initial count, a crew member counted 42 passengers. The crew member did a second count and allegedly counted 44 passengers, however, people on the tour said that everyone was walking around and were not told to sit still while the crew member was counting.
Burckle and Webster could not be reached at phone numbers listed for them. They are suing for negligence and emotional distress.
Sail Maui did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.