Fatal Pompano Beach parasailing accident blamed on operator error

A parasailing rig that failed in flight earlier this month, hurling a woman to her death in the ocean below, was caused by faulty equipment or operator error, according to a parasailing safety expert. The chairman of the Parasailing Safety Council told the Miami Herald that video of the fatal accident shows that the woman’s harness sheared off the tow bar either because it was improperly attached or faulty. The newspaper also reports that the captain of the tow boat was licensed but had a criminal record. The U.S. Coast Guard doesn’t normally license convicted criminals but in this case, either enough time had elapsed since the conviction or the check forgery charges were not relevant.

The Coast Guard and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission say the investigation will take a long time to complete. The National Transportation Safety Board also sent an investigator. The woman’s husband, who was sitting next to her in the tandem parasail, looked on in horror as she plummeted 200 feet and landed face-down in the water. The husband’s pain may be multiplied by what’s described as a loophole in marine law.

The Herald quotes a legal expert as saying that damages are limited to the value of the captain’s boat. The parasail company operated out of a nearby hotel and maintained an office there. If the couple booked the flight through the hotel or it is proved that the hotel was a partner in the business, the hotel might be held liable as well. Until the Coast Guard and the FWC finish their probe, that question will likely remain unanswered.

Parasailing has a checkered history in Pompano Beach. In 2007 a 15 year-old girl was killed when the towboat line snapped, hurling her and her sister into a building. The boat crew was accused of ignoring bad weather warnings. A lawsuit was settled out of court. The teenager was killed five years ago almost to the day of the most recent accident. The girl’s family says they have tried to get state and federal regulators to create safety rules and enforce them, to no avail. There are no state or federal laws or regulations for parasail operators, no training is required, and equipment inspection is not required either.

Source: The Miami Herald, “Captain in fatal parasailing accident had valid license, criminal record,” Carli Teproff & Julie K. Brown, Aug. 17, 2012