A series of deaths and injuries may lead to stronger oversight of Florida’s parasailing industry. Victims and their families are lobbying lawmakers in Tallahassee for help.
Crystal White was 17-years-old when she and her younger sister went parasailing in Pompano Beach in 2007. White says she remembers the boat operator talking about bad weather approaching, but he sent them up anyway. Then, the wind picked up.
“Suddenly we noticed we were over the beach and that it felt like we were being pulled, and the wind was blowing so hard against us and our parasail that we could barely even breathe," White told reporters at the Capitol. "I just remember screaming and yelling down for the operator of the boat to help me and my sister.”
White recalls hearing a loud pop, and that’s all she remembers after that. She and her sister were slammed into a hotel. 15-year-old Amber White died two days later.
A similar accident happened to 17-year-old Alexis Fairchild and a friend during a trip to Panama City Beach last summer.
The wind picked up as a storm approached. Fairchild says they yelled for help, but the boat operators didn’t hear them.
“I just remember being rapidly thrown around. It was hard, and then I just remember feeling this jolt through my whole body,” Fairchild said. “I don’t remember hearing anything. I just remember feeling it in my body and just knowing that it just snapped, and then I remember hearing screaming.”
Fairchild and her friend Sydney Good were thrown into the side of a condo building. They hit power lines before landing on a parked SUV. Both girls sustained what doctors say are life long injuries, including brain trauma.
Since 2001, six people have been killed and nearly two-dozen injured in parasailing accidents in Florida.
A bill filed by Senator Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, would strengthen safety standards and impose weather restrictions for parasail operators. It would also require operators to have at least one million dollars of liability insurance.
The bill unanimously passed its first Senate committee Thursday. A similar version in the House easily passed its first committee last week.