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Editorials

Death cries for parasailing rules

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 06:36 PM

The death of a 27-year-old chiropractic assistant after a parasailing mishap along Clearwater Beach should end the days of free regulatory sailing for businesses that launch people into the sky for a thrill.

Alejandra White, who lived in Lawrenceville, Ga., died Sept. 11 - six days after dropping from the sky when a line attached to a boat pulling her and her boyfriend broke.

The companion managed to free himself and fall into the water. He survived with minor injuries. But Alex, as she was called by friends, was dragged ashore, where she crashed into several objects, including a volleyball net post.

It appears the horrifying accident could have been avoided. Rough weather was reported at the time, and other parasailing outfits along the Pinellas coast had wisely ceased giving rides.

Common sense tells you that being lifted into the sky, like a giant kite, from a moving boat involves risk, especially when it comes to changing weather.

State lawmakers should not let White's death be in vain. They need to finally mandate some basic standards for this essentially unrelated industry.

Already, in response to White's death, at least one lawmaker is prepared to take action. State Sen. Dennis Jones of Pinellas plans to file a regulatory bill which, appropriately, will include input from law enforcement and industry representatives.

Statistics show that parasailing accidents are far from rare. Parasail.org, which bills itself as "the official parasailing information website," reports 384 accidents with 83 serious injuries and 28 deaths in the United States and its territories from 1980-2009.

A similar U.S. Coast Guard study from 1992-2001 totaled 59 accidents with 64 injuries and three deaths. The Tampa area was the scene of 24 accidents - the second-highest number in the nation. Honolulu was first.

When people go to county fairs and carnivals, they can take comfort in knowing the rides must be permitted and inspected by government workers.

Not so in parasailing. It's left up to owners and their workers to keep boats and equipment in safe-working order and to use sound judgment when deciding to go out or return to shore.

The need for regulation has been talked about several years - at least three attempts at legislation have failed. The latest effort came a couple of years ago, after the death of a 15-year-old Marion County girl who slammed into the tile roof of a house on Pompano Beach.

Then, state Sen. Gwen Margolis of Miami Beach and Rep. Carl Domino of Jupiter proposed reasonable restrictions: Parasail businesses would have to get yearly licenses from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and maintain liability insurance.

Boat operators could not operate closer than 2,000 feet from the beach. And parasailing would be prohibited in winds exceeding 20 knots (23 miles per hour).

Such simple minimum requirements would not harm businesses. They probably would make the sport even more popular, with people knowing that business owners have to follow safety rules.

Lawmakers who don't believe regulation is needed should realize that people who parasail, especially for the first time, are vulnerable. They assume operators know what they're doing and that their equipment is safe. But without inspections and licensing, there can be no such assurances.

Even some people in the parasailing industry realize the freewheeling status quo is not good for business or public relations. Lawmakers should acknowledge that, too.

The state has an obligation to establish rules that will ensure parasailing is an exhilarating experience, not a deadly one.

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