We are finding out the hard way just how little regulation is in place to assure the public that the parasailing industry in Florida is safe.
Two teenage girls from Indiana were critically injured when they went parasailing in Panama City last month. Witnesses say high winds may have caused the tow rope to break from the boat that was towing the women behind in the air. As they headed toward a building at a high rate of speed, witnesses say they were out of control and narrowly avoided power lines.
The teens struck a condominium and finally a parachute dropped them in the parking lot of a hotel. One girl fell onto the hood of a car which, along with the windshield, looked like it had been in a major collision.
As a result of the tragedy, the U.S. Coast Guard alerted the parasailing industry to remind it safety comes first. It launched an education campaign, “Know your ROPES.” Operators were reminded to check towlines, maintain equipment and check weather conditions before taking passengers up in a parasail.
In this case the boat, operated by Aquatic Adventures, was reported to be too close to shore and operating in severe weather conditions with poorly maintained equipment.
Accidents generally result from weather and equipment that malfunctions, reports the Northwest Florida Daily.
Altogether there are 14 parasail operations in Panama City Beach and the paper reports there are 25 operations in the Destin area.
There have been 11 deaths and 52 parasailing injuries since 2006 in the U.S. The industry is largely unregulated in Florida unless a boat has six or more passengers. In that case, the Coast Guard can conduct an inspection.
The teenage girls are reported to be badly injured with traumatic head injuries. It is not unusual for parasailing accidents to results in catastrophic injuries.
State laws have been defeated in the Florida legislature due to industry opposition. In July proposed regulations that failed in session may have prevented the most recent accident, reports the News Herald. Look to the heavily funded tourism industry and its lobbyists.
What remains to be seen is whether this operator had any insurance to cover the teens’ injuries.
Aquatic Adventures has been sued before. The News Herald reports a woman was run over by an intoxicated man operating a personal watercraft rented from the business. She received $650,000 in damages. The paper reports the company has been involved in more than a dozen lawsuits and the owners has faced at least two arrest warrants.