Parasailing deaths will continue, expert warns - FOX 35 News Orlando

Parasailing deaths will continue, expert warns

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

Without changes, more people will die parasailing. That's what an expert told investigative reporter Doug Smith earlier this year. 

Tragically, that prediction came true. Kathleen Miskell, 28, died in the water just off Pompano Beach.  She was strapped in a parasail with her husband when something went terribly wrong.

"Her harness failed and she fell approximately 150 feet into the water," Pompano Beach Mayor Lamar Fisher told reporters at news conference last month.

Fisher was particularly concerned because it was not the first time a tourist died parasailing in his city.

"This is accident number two in the city of Pompano Beach, so what we need to do is anything to make sure legislation is put in place so these boats, harnesses, equipment can be inspected on a regular basis."

Amber White, 15, died on Pompano Beach back in 2007 when her line snapped. There have now been six deaths in Florida since 2001.

Mayor Fisher supports a new parasail safety bill that will be taken up by lawmakers in Tallahassee in 2013.  However, previous efforts have all failed, so currently there's no state or federal agency inspecting or certifying equipment.

"I think there should be common sense regulations," offered Mark McCulloh, founder of the Parasail Safety Council.  He's been involved in the industry since the 1970's and invented much of the modern-day equipment.  

Years ago, he thought new laws and regulations would be enough to ensure safety, but not anymore.  McCulloh says equipment must change to prevent people from dying.

"Ever fatality that I have investigated since 1977, if I were to replace the harness with the gondola, I can show you side-by-side comparisons that the person would not have perished in every single case."

He's convinced the gondola chair, which he developed, would have saved Miskell.  McCulloh says it's now safely used at the largest watersports operation in the world in Cancun, Mexico, but McCulloh knows it's not an easy sell.  

"It's expensive. It can be as much as $15,000," he continued.

A harness, by comparison, is under $500. 

Larry Meddock runs the Water Sports Industry Association, which includes many parasail operators.  FOX 13 spoke with him earlier this year and he's not sold on the idea that equipment changes are the answer. 

"The overwhelming majority of our members want to run a safe, secure operation for their guests.  They don't want to get anybody hurt," Meddock insisted. 

Parasail operators have voluntarily gathered over the years to echo that sentiment, but McCulloh says, tragically, the deaths will continue if regulations don't include changes to equipment.

"I'm convinced now -- without equipment changes, you can't regulate yourself out of fatalities. It's just not going to happen."

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