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Tourist dies in parasailing accident in Gulf

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Published:   |   Updated: March 20, 2013 at 02:25 PM

David and Stephanie Sieradzki were looking to have fun on their vacation to Florida from South Carolina. Parasailing seemed perfect.

On Monday afternoon, they wanted to fly together on a parasail off Bradenton Beach, but the boat couldn't pull them both. So Stephanie Sieradzki went first, said her father, Bud Hazel, speaking by phone from Fountain Inn, S.C.

Then it was David Sieradzki's turn, and things quickly went wrong.

"Dave went, he got up in air and then the boat engine died, and Dave came down," said Hazel, who said he got his information from his daughter. "And they had to pull him into the boat. By the time he got into the boat, he was dead. They tried 20 to 30 minutes to revive him, but he was gone."

It was the second parasailing death in the Tampa Bay area in less than 10 months and has renewed calls from some for more stringent regulation of the industry.

"After all these incidents, I can't believe we haven't gotten smarter as an industry,'' said Mark McCulloh, chairman of the Parasail Safety County, a nonprofit promoting parasailing safety based in Maitland.

David Sieradzki, said Hazel, was a "fun-loving guy. He was jolly. Everybody liked him. A good Christian guy."

Sieradzki, 31, worked in the IT department at a South Carolina company, said Hazel. He liked to fish and hunt for deer and wild turkey. The couple had been married for two years and had no children, he said.

The Sieradzkis, along with his father, Vic, mother Cindy and sister Ashley, had gone to Florida on Saturday, said Hazel.

The boat, named "Almost Heaven," was operated by Fun N Sun Parasail on Bradenton Beach, said Gary Morse, spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

"Apparently the lower propeller unit malfunctioned," said Morse. The boat, he said, had both an inboard and outboard motor and both appeared to be working.

Coast Guard Commander Peter Martin said the boat "wasn't dead in the water," and Sieradzki was about 800 feet in the air.

"Our understanding is that it was able to make what we call bare steerage way," Martin said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference at the Coast Guard station in St. Petersburg. "Just enough propulsion to maintain course, but it couldn't come up to its normal speed."

There were six passengers and two crew members on board at the time, said Morse. The boat is an uninspected passenger vessel that is licensed by the Coast Guard to take six passengers plus crew, the Coast Guard said.

Sieradzki, he said, did not appear to hit the water hard and was waving to those on the boat to indicate he was OK, Morse said. However, Martin said there are conflicting reports on how hard Sieradzki hit the water.

Officials with Fun N Sun Parasail could not be reached for comment.

Coast Guard officials were told Sieradzki was in the air, parasailing, when the boat slowed because of a mechanical failure, said Coast Guard spokeswoman Mariana O'Leary.

"He dropped into the water," O'Leary said. "When they retrieved him, he was unconscious and unresponsive."

A crew member aboard Almost Heaven, a 28-foot commercial parasailing vessel based in Bradenton Beach, notified the Coast Guard about 5:30 p.m. that CPR was being performed on the unresponsive man. The Coast Guard medically evacuated Sieradzki at 5:48 p.m. Monday. He was about 1.5 miles west of Longboat Key.

Coast Guard rescuers performed CPR on Sieradzki until Manatee County EMS arrived. He was pronounced dead; the county's medical examiner's office has not determined the cause of death.

The U.S. Coast Guard and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are investigating.

Wayne Mascolo, who operates Aloha Parasail in Fort Lauderdale, said when there is engine trouble and the boat slows down or cuts off on a day with good weather, the parachute should come down slowly behind the person in the parasail, Mascolo said.

When there is an accident, it affects the industry, said Mascolo, who said he has been in the business for 30 years and offers parasailing rides on boats that seat 12 people.

This year the state Legislature tried to implement more stringent safety rules, but the effort failed after operators complained changes would cost them money, shorten the hours of operation and increase their insurance, said McCulloh of the Parasail Safety Council.

"Their argument is we don't want the government snooping in our business," McCulloh said.

McCulloh, a former parasail operator, said the industry needs strict rules for parasailing, including on maximum wind speed when parasailing, height restrictions and tougher regulations on equipment inspection and types of tow lines.

In September, Alejandra White, 28, died after parasailing with her fiancé, Shaun Ladd, when a storm with strong winds came through, said Joelle Castelli, a spokeswoman for Clearwater Public Safety. Ladd's line broke and he fell into the water, but he swam to shore with minor cuts and bruises.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimates between 70 and 120 commercial parasail operators exist statewide. The Parasailing Safety Council said that from 1990 through September 2009, there were more than 380 parasailing accidents, resulting in 78 serious injuries and 22 deaths in the United States and its territories.

Hazel said his daughter and son-in-law were supposed to return to South Carolina on Wednesday.

Now, he said, his daughter was on her way back Tuesday and the family expects Sieradzki's body to return Wednesday or Thursday.


Reporters José Patiño Girona and Natalie Shepherd contributed to this report.

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