Why no regulation for parasailing? - FOX 13 News

Why no regulation for parasailing?

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

It looks fun and relaxing, but parasailing can quickly turn dangerous or even deadly. Over the past few decades, there have been numerous deaths along Bay Area beaches, but the industry still remains largely unregulated.

The most recent tragedy involved 27-year-old Alejandra White, who went by Alex. She came to Clearwater Beach with her fiance, Shaun Ladd, from Georgia in September of 2010. They were being pulled behind the Sky Screamer when the weather turned bad.

"I remember there were just a couple quick gusts of wind, and the parasail was getting tossed around," Ladd recalled.

The rope snapped and the couple floated high in the sky before coming back down to the water, and dumping Ladd out of the harness.

"I heard her scream behind me, but I figured it just tossed her out as well," continued Ladd.

But White was still strapped in the harness and witnesses on the beach watched in horror as she was dragged across the sand and right into a volleyball pole.

"As soon as I got to the beach, I saw her there on the ground and thought she wasn't conscious, but I thought she had just sucked some water in," he said.

It was far worse. Alex White died six days later at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.

"Its horrible to think it could have been preventable," said Mark McCulloh, the founder of the Parasail Safety Council.

McCulloh has been involved in the industry since the 1970s and says he's invented much of the modern day equipment. The family of Alex White filed a civil lawsuit and McCulloh has been hired as an expert witness in the case.

Nobody from the Sky Screamer wanted to comment on our story, but the insurance company settled the lawsuit. The terms were confidential and there was no admission of any wrongdoing.

McCulloh believes White will not be the last person to die in a parasail accident, and he's pushing for equipment changes to make it safer.

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

McCulloh believes a gondola chair is the way to go. He says it's much safer than harnesses now being used by most operators.

Since he began tracking parasailing problems in the early '80s, McCulloh estimates there have been 429 serious accidents, including 72 deaths. More than a dozen fatalities occurred in Florida, and five since just 2001.

He's been called as an expert witness in dozens of cases.

"I can tell you every one of them; it's the same question that comes up. 'Where did it fail? What went wrong? Why is my loved one dead?' I live though their tragedies, every single one of them."

McCulloh say he also can't explain to the families of loved ones why, throughout the U.S., no state or federal agency inspects or certifies the equipment.

Parasailing boats are certified by the Coast Guard, but that's just for the number of passengers and has nothing to do with parasailing operation. The past few years, lawmakers in Tallahassee have tried to pass legislation, but every attempt has failed.

"There is obviously a problem and I don't begin to try and understand why bills fail," said Larry Meddock, the executive director of the Water Sports Industry Association.

A few years ago, his organization opened up to parasail operators.

"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 says the Coast Guard does not want to get involved and he's working on establishing voluntary guidelines with operators. He defends the activity when people question the past safety record.

"If you looked at the number of parasail hours aloft, look at the number of people who parasail, yeah, parasailing is very safe."

While there is disagreement over the safety of parasailing, one final piece of advice from McCulloh that nobody quibbles over:

"If there's bad weather coming, I would just advise the public stay off the boat."

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