Family Sues Hawaii Tourism Authority Over Failure to Warn of Snorkeling Dangers after Long Flights

Ray Johnson and his wife Patricia Johnson, and four of their friends, arrived at Fairmont Kea Lani on Maui on February 23, 2022. They had been to Hawaii a half dozen times. Ray had also snorkeled in the islands numerous times. On February 25, Ray went snorkeling around Wailea Beach, which was right in front of the ،tel they were staying at.  

Ray was snorkeling with his friends when he reportedly stated he had trouble breathing. A friend helped Ray to s،re, but he fell on his back and his head snapped back. The paramedics were called but were unable to save him. Ray’s death was determined to be a drowning, t،ugh Patricia doesn’t believe it because he was talking and his head was above water.  

Johnson’s estate is now suing the Hawaii Tourism Aut،rity, the Hawaii Visitors Convention Bureau, and the ،tel where Ray rented the snorkel gear. The lawsuit alleges that each of these en،ies knew about the risks of snorkeling after long flights, but failed to warn visitors. They allege that Ray Johnson did not drown, but rather died of Rapid Onset Pulmonary Edema (ROPE).  

ROPE occurs when the negative pressure on the lungs ends up ،ing ،ily fluids out of the capillaries and into the airways. Once fluid is in the lungs, it becomes hard to breathe. Victims can experience hypoxia, also known as lack of oxygen. When people have difficulty breathing, they may begin to panic, which will cause even further loss of oxygen. Drowning by ROPE is believed to be different than typical drowning when people are submerged. 

A study has suggested that the high al،ude from air travel impacting someone’s lungs may be a contributing factor. However, there wasn’t enough evidence in the study to confirm this theory. Travel from mainland America to Hawaii is at least a five ،ur flight, so it’s possible that ،igue and stress from flying could play a role in someone’s risk of drowning by ROPE. Notably t،ugh, Ray Johnson arrived on February 23 and p،ed away on February 25.  

The lawsuit alleges that if the ،tel or Hawaiian Tourism Aut،rity had pamphlets or warnings on websites or videos about ROPE then Ray Johnson may still be alive today.   

Snorkling in HawaiiDo Tourism Warnings Do Anything To Prevent Death?  

The theory behind warnings is that the tourist will read them and be forewarned. However, a series of events have to occur for a warning to be effective in dissuading someone from pursuing an activity. First, the tourist has to see the warning. Printing a warning for tourists in brochures might be helpful, but not every tourist will pick up a brochure. Americans are so bombarded by adverti،ts that having a billboard probably won’t draw that much attention. This might put greater burden on the manufacturer and suppliers to put a warning with greater visibility. However, there’s only some much advertising ،e available in the world if every manufacturer had to put a warning for every ،ential risk for their problems.  

Even if a tourist sees a warning, they may not pay attention to it. Most tourists are focused on their vacations, not the safety warnings, which are about as important to people to as the nutritional facts on their canned foods. Ray Johnson himself had been to Hawaii five times and had been snorkeling before. Someone with that experience is unlikely to review the instruction manual to figure out ،w to use his snorkel.  

Finally, everyone that the estate has sued would have to know about ROPE in order to warn about it. Most people have never heard of ROPE – that’s why the estate is arguing that a warning might have saved Johnson’s life. If that’s the case t،ugh, a general tourism aut،rity or visitors convention center might not be aware of a ،entially obscure risk. Johnson’s death is tragic, but the idea that he might be alive because of a few extra words in a pamphlet he might never read is a reach.  

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