Fatal parasail accidents renew calls for rules

Soaring high above the ocean, tethered to a boat, a parasail ride is at once exhilarating and peaceful, even quiet. But every year, there are accidents.
Associated Press
Oct 6, 2012

The Parasail Safety Council, which tracks injuries and deaths nationwide, reports more than 70 people have been killed and at least 1,600 injured between 1982 and 2012, out of an estimated 150 million parasail rides during those 30 years.

That's a casualty rate of about one per 90,000 rides. In comparison, the chance of being seriously injured at an amusement park is about one in 9 million rides, according 2010 data from the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.

Despite parasailing's inherent risk, few federal or state safety regulations exist for it. In Florida, which has by far the largest number of parasail operators at about 120, repeated efforts to enact new rules following fatal accidents have gone nowhere. Florida is seen by safety proponents as a national bellwether because of parasailing's popularity in a state highly dependent on tourist dollars.

The lack of safety regulations frustrates Shannon Kraus, mother of two girls who crashed into a Pompano Beach hotel roof in 2007 when their parasail line snapped during a storm. One of the girls, 15-year-old Amber May White, later died of her injuries, while her sister Crystal, then 16, has had a long road to recovery from head injuries.

"Nobody has listened to me from day No. 1," Kraus said. "I've just been shoved aside. I've kind of been ignored and I'm pretty angry about that."

Crystal White, now a mother of two herself and a massage therapist, said most people who sign up to parasail have little idea it's less regulated than the average carnival ride.

"They just need to know that if they go up, and something bad happens, there's nothing they can do about it, because there are no laws, or rules, or regulations," she said.

Indeed, five years after the girls' accident just off the same beach, a Connecticut woman died when her harness gave way and she fell about 150 feet into the ocean. The Aug. 15 death of 28-year-old Kathleen Miskell has prompted the first National Transportation Safety Board investigation into a parasailing fatality. Safety advocates hope Florida lawmakers will give the issue a fresh look.

Mark McCulloh, who runs the Parasail Safety Council, said in the U.S. and its territories about 620 vessels offer parasail rides to about 4 million people a year. He said only New Jersey and Virginia have relatively comprehensive regulations, while the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Coast Guard oversee some limited aspects of the activity.

In Florida, state Sen. Gwen Margolis, a Democrat, said the proposed regulations would include inspections of parasailing equipment, new rules restricting rides during certain weather conditions and prohibitions against parasailing near fixed objects such as power lines. The proposal would also require operators to buy insurance.

Margolis said past efforts have run into opposition by parasail operators and a general anti-regulation attitude among many lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature.

"When you get onto anything that's recreational, you assume that somebody's inspected it and everything's OK. And you can't assume that," she said.

Most parasail operators, however, are willing to submit to safety regulations as long as they are sensible, said Dan Breitenstein, who runs Miami Beach Parasail.

"If you have someone who has never been on a parasail boat or doesn't know the workings of it, if they're making up rules that would have little effect on what we do" it wouldn't make sense, Breitenstein said. "There's definitely things we can do."

People who sign up for Miami Beach Parasail generally pay about $75 for a 15-minute ride that can take them as high as 350 feet in the air. They sit in swing-like harnesses attached to a tow bar, which is connected by ropes to the kite-like parasail above and a winch in the boat below.

As the 33-foot "High Anxiety" boat moves across the water, the parasail passengers are slowly lifted into the air and the line is let out. After the ride, the boat is slowed gradually as the line is brought in so parasailors land back on the boat on their feet.

It all seems fairly safe, and you can't beat the view, which on one recent day featured an umbrella-dotted South Beach and, beyond, its famed Art Deco hotel and entertainment district, with the greenish-blue Atlantic Ocean below.

The lack of regulation, however, means no one is looking over the operator's shoulder to make sure ropes damaged by sun and salt water are replaced. There are also little or no rules regarding age limits or experience for "spotters" who observe the riders.

And there's nothing beyond common sense to prevent an operator for taking people up in windy weather, which many people say is the one variable that can most often lead to an accident.

Breitenstein, who has radar on his boats, said he maintains a five-mile buffer from any nearby bad weather. But he said in Florida, storms can develop quickly offshore — and sometimes operators might be tempted to take a little risk to make more money.

"Weather is our biggest, toughest thing," he said. "Taking chances, that's a bad habit to get into."

 

Comments

Dinghy Gal

Sounds like the odds are good you'll survive.

Factitious

Yep.

With this article and a little Googling and SWAGing, I was able to imperfectly guestimate some risks:

- Parasailing, 44 injuries and 2 deaths per million hours.
- Automobile driving or riding, 26 injuries and 0.4 deaths per million hours.
- Motorcycle driving or riding, 208 injuries and 14 deaths per million hours.

So on a per hour basis, the risk of hanging from that nylon cloth is only 2-4 times worse time spent in a car, but on the seat of a motorcycle, you're 8-35 times worse off.

Off course, we spend MUCH more time in cars. In the U.S.A. alone, some 40 million people DIE each year from motor vehicle crashes.

Humans are not very good assessing risk, or any thing else that involves very big or very small numbers. You gotta do a little math to make rational decisions. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Num...

Randy_Marsh

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights).

real talk

So my post was deleted saying that I made a personal attack. I did not. I corrected the grammar of the above person that made a personal attack.

*You're a moron.

Randy_Marsh

Real talk
I didnt report you, I understand your need to feel superior and try to feed it as much as possible. Please take solace in that i greatly appreciate your attempts at making me better at spelling, But also please understand i could care less what you or anyone else thinks about what i write or how i spell it.
S.R Please give the grammer Nazi's enough space to validate their entire existance by correcting my post without being deleted, I enjoy watching someone acheive their dreams.

deertracker

Yeah, you'll survive as long as the harness does not break or whatever else does not go wrong. Don't worry, it's not the fall that is going to kill you, but watch out for that water!

ladydye_5

It is the same with ANY activity....."It's all fun and games till someone loses and eye". Everyone has a good time untill someone gets hurt, THEN they decide it needs to have safety reviews and regulations. There is a chance that anything can be dangerous. Heck there are people that are killed WALKING down the sidewalk!

Contango

"Their parasail line snapped during a storm." ????

Reads like idiocy on both sides.

Try skydiving; ya sign your rights away.

About the only "guarantee" ya get is that the main canopy functioned properly the last time it was used.

When your time is up, your time is up - have fun!

Let the free market work. The operators that have the most injuries and deaths will go out of business (unless Obama subsidizes 'em) and the good ones will prosper.

4shizzle

Romney?

Is that you?

BW1's picture
BW1

"Nobody has listened to me from day No. 1...I've just been shoved aside. I've kind of been ignored and I'm pretty angry about that."

Translation: I was stupid enough to let my teens engage in a high risk activity under ridiculously risky conditions (storm.) I didn't use my brain, and I want Big Brother to step in and make sure no one else has to use theirs.

4shizzle

Regulate ?!!!

Don't you know that's a dirty word ?
People can die and the USA can go down the toilet, but please-- no rules !

Contango

@ 4shizzle:

70% of health problems in the U.S. are due to three factors:

Obesity
Lack of exercise
Smoking

So should the Nanny state force people to eat healthier, exercise and quit smoking since most are too stupid and lazy to do it on their own?

The American Ruling Class in DC appreciates their good little droids.

Randy_Marsh

The picture of Fat girls eating donuts while dangling from a parasail during a lightening storm just ran through my head. HAHAHA!

Contango

@ Randy_Marsh:

LOL

A jelly donut in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

4shizzle

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Off-topic comments.

Contango

Kindly note the topic.

4shizzle

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights).

Contango

@ 4shizzle:

You'd never think of attempting parasailing (or skydiving) so why worry about it?

4shizzle

You think you know my thoughts, you must be God!

Oh wait- You say there isn't.

Hot Flash !-- You're not!

Contango

@ 4shizzle:

So you would consider parasailing and/or skydiving?

(Note topic)

4shizzle

I feel a little sorry for you.

(note-a little)

Contango

@ 4shizzle:

Thanks and pray for me to a diety of your choice. :)

4shizzle

.

Contango

BTW. On Tues. a man will attempt to break the skydiving speed record:

http://www.businessinsider.com/f...