LOS ANGELES (CN) – Two hikers left stranded for five days in Madagascar after their guide got lost sued a California tour company for negligence, claiming they were forced to rough it in the wilderness and eat bugs, snakes, birds and geckos to survive.
David Suggs of Tennessee and Sakura Yagi of New York sued San Diego-based Cortez USA Tours and Travel in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Wednesday.
What was meant to be a challenging day hike to a lake in the wilds of Ankarana National Park turned into a nightmare, the suit says, after their guide took a supposed “shortcut” that left them with no way back to the park entrance.
The former couple says they began planning a vacation to Madagascar in March 2015, and contacted Cortez USA Tours for travel services to the country. Since they did not speak Malagasy or French, they asked Cortez for an English-speaking guide.
Cortez’s guide Anthonio Hendrix, who is not a party to the lawsuit, led them on a day hike to Green Lake on the morning of May 17, 2015. But the couple says that acting on Hendrix’s advice, they had only packed two box lunches and three bottles of water and that neither they nor Hendrix brought tents, sleeping bags or other items they would need if they were stranded.
The group’s troubles began, Suggs and Yagi claim, when Hendrix suggested they take a shortcut on their return from the lake to travel back to the entrance of the national park. As the party walked through a gorge penned in by steep cliffs and then into a dense forest, Hendrix finally told the couple he was lost.
“Because Cortez’s guide did not have a map, compass, radio, satellite telephone, Cortez’s guide was unable to guide plaintiffs back on course. Because defendant had not adequately trained and supervised Cortez’s guide, plaintiffs and Cortez’s guide remained lost for several more days,” the lawsuit states.
Suggs and Yagi spent their first night on a small rocky formation and had to sleep with their hands tied together to stop themselves from plunging onto the forest floor, the 17-page complaint states.
Over five days, Yagi says she was stung by jungle bees and twisted her ankle. On the second night, the couple was allegedly forced to sleep on the ground outside a cave and struggled to find food and water.
During their third and fourth days in the wilderness, according to the complaint, Suggs was so dehydrated he found it difficult to eat the “small, bony snake” that was his meal for that day.
An Antankaran tribe tried fruitlessly to find the lost hikers. When Cortez realized the party was missing, the company contacted Suggs’ father who began rescue efforts. Yagi’s parents contacted the Japanese embassy which arranged for a rescue helicopter to find the party.
“The vast majority of the rescue efforts were undertaken by plaintiffs’ families, not Cortez,” the complaint states.
The couple and the guide were finally found and rescued from their ordeal on May 21, 2015, according to the lawsuit.
Suggs and Yagi say they emerged from the park severely dehydrated, malnourished, bruised and stung. They say they were also on the hook for $37,700 for the rescue effort including the costs of chartering a plane and arranging the helicopter, air travel, hotel accommodation and other costs.
They also claim Cortez has not refunded their money or reimbursed them.
“Plaintiffs’ near-death experience during the Cortez Tour caused and continues to cause plaintiffs emotional distress and psychological trauma. After returning to New York, Ms. Yagi would suddenly start crying uncontrollably. Plaintiffs ended their three-year relationship because of their experience on the Cortez tour. To this day, Mr. Suggs is compelled to drink all water that is served to him even if he is not thirsty,” the May 10 filing states.
Neither Suggs and Yagi’s attorney nor Cortez immediately responded Thursday to requests for comment.
Alleging negligence, breach of contract, and unjust enrichment, Suggs and Yagi seek damages, attorney fees, and costs. They are represented by Cheryl Kenner with Kabateck Brown Kellner in Los Angeles.