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Couple sues Hawaii snorkeling company for $5 million for abandoning them in the ocean

Waikiki Catamaran
Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images (Representational only)

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    A California couple has filed a $5 million lawsuit against a snorkeling company in Hawaii for allegedly abandoning them a half mile away from shore.

    In September 2021, Elizabeth Webster and Alexander Burckle of Hayward booked a snorkeling excursion during their honeymoon in Hawaii with the company Sail Maui, reported Hawaii News Now.

    When the boat arrived at the snorkeling destination in east Lanai, the captain informed the group that they had one hour to explore that area before the boat would be taking them to their next destination. 

    According to the lawsuit, the tour company failed to provide further information on how to get back to the boat or steps to take in case of an emergency. 

    The couple, who are both experienced snorkelers, claims to have made attempts to swim back to the catamaran boat after they were suddenly faced with rough waters, but the boat had already departed without them. 

    “It was basically a traumatizing event where they thought they were going to die and they thought their spouse was going to die,” the couple’s attorney, Jared Washkowitz said. 

    The catamaran had allegedly left them at least a quarter to half a mile away from the nearest shore. After 20 minutes of swimming in turbulent and unstable waters, they managed to reach a shoreline in Lanai. 

    Webster sent distress signals by carving “HELP” and “SOS” in the sand, but no one came to their rescue until two Lanai residents who were driving by gave them water and allowed them to use their phones, according to the lawsuit. 

    The lawsuit also claims that the Sail Maui crew conducted three separate head counts, but were unaware that two members had gone missing until Webster called them. 

    Another snorkeler on the same catamaran, Jessica Hebert, later called the tour “disorganized” and claimed that the crew had failed to properly perform the head count after their second destination. 

    Hebert, who happens to be a U.S. Coast Guard member, said she contacted a local unit.

    “I know that they’re doing their own investigation,” she said.

    Since the incident, Sail Maui has changed its head count procedures but has declined to comment pending the lawsuit. 

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

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