A Bay Area couple says they were abandoned in rough open waters while on a snorkeling tour off the coast of Maui during their honeymoon in 2021. Now, they’ve filed a lawsuit in Honolulu federal court suing the snorkel tour operator for $5 million, alleging negligence and emotional distress.
The couple, Elizabeth Webster and Alexander Burckle, live in Hayward, graduated from Stanford, and now work as chemists, as the Chronicle reported. They reportedly got married early in the pandemic and went on a delayed honeymoon — during which they say feared for their lives.
According to the lawsuit, the couple went on a tour from snorkel company Sail Maui, taking them and around 40 other people to several dive sites off the coast of what was once Club Lanai, a resort only accessible via boat. The lawsuit claimed that the captain told everyone that at the second location, the boat would be anchored in place for around an hour before heading to a new one, but did not specify when everyone should return to the boat, according to NBC News.
The couple alleges that while they were in the ocean, the boat started to drive away without them after a staff member miscounted people on the boat. According to the lawsuit, “One passenger later reported to the Coast Guard that when she returned to the Vessel, she reported to a crew member that Plaintiffs were still out in the water further out then where she had been, but the crew member assured her Plaintiffs were already accounted for.”
The couple claim that for nearly half an hour, they tried to swim after the boat as the water became rougher and choppier, with surf rising up to 8 feet high. At that point, the lawsuit says, “Plaintiffs were beginning to panic and were struggling to swim in the ocean conditions … They feared that drowning was imminent. 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 couple said that they were alone in deep water, and pushed themselves for 20 minutes of reportedly swimming as hard as possible to get to a mostly-empty Club Lanai shore. They allegedly arrived dehydrated and exhausted, and Webster wrote out “HELP” and “SOS” in the sand. A pair of good Samaritans apparently found them and provided water and cell phones about 10 minutes later.
Their lawyer, Jared Washkowitz, reportedly says that the couple are “still getting psychological treatment” more than a year later, including for physical symptoms of anxiety and loss of sleep, according to the Chronicle.
Image of dock at Sail Maui via Google Image Street View.