Tragedy struck the Florida Keys on Memorial Day when a parasail carrying an Illinois woman and her two children hit a bridge after the line tethering them to the boat was cut by the vessel’s captain. They struck the Old Seven Mile Bridge and were pulled from the water by a good Samaritan, but the mother did not survive. The children were severely injured.
According to the 911 call log from the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, a tarpon guide from Marathon called in when he witnessed the catastrophe unfolding. The guide told local news that the weather had been calm, but the wind suddenly picked up at about 5:00 p.m. and the temperature dropped.
That’s when he saw the parasail come free from the boat.
According to the guide, the mother and her two children fell from the air and were then dragged across the top of the water as the wind carried the parasail for about one or two miles. That's when they hit the Old Seven Mile Bridge. The bridge, which is now decommissioned, runs parallel to the current Seven Mile Bridge. It connects the Middle Keys to the Lower Keys, running from Marathon to Little Duck Key.
The good Samaritan raced his 25-foot-boat around Pigeon Key to reach the mother and kids after they struck the bridge. He and his passengers brought the family on board and began performing CPR on the mother and one of the children, a boy who appeared to be about seven years old. The other child, who was estimated to be about 10 to 12 years old, was conscious but injured.
Monroe County deputies were on the bridge and witnessed the rescue. They directed the tarpon guide to bring the mother and children to Sunset Grill, at which point the authorities took over.
Both children were taken to Fishermen's Hospital in Marathon. The younger was then transported to Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami. The seven-year-old was listed in critical condition with injuries to his legs, arms, eye, and torso. The mother already had no heartbeat when she was pulled from the water by the good Samaritan, and emergency personnel were unable to revive her.
Marathon-based Lighthouse Parasail has been identified as the company responsible for operating the parasailing boat. The Coast Guard and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are investigating.
Towline Failure Is the Leading Cause of Parasailing Accidents
Parasailing accidents are rare but devastating. Passengers may rise to 350 feet into the air, with no means of operating or steering the parasail. The boat pilot and the parasailing company are responsible for the safety of parasailers, which includes properly monitoring weather conditions, maintaining parasail equipment, and operating the boat safely. When something is missed or someone acts negligently, the results are catastrophic.
The leading cause of fatal parasailing accidents? Towline failure, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Specific factors that can cause a parasail cable to break or come loose may include saltwater, wear and tear, strong wind, and even the type of knot that’s used to secure the line.
Why Did the Captain Cut the Line?
When a parasail comes free from a boat, the results can be disastrous. At times, it is the boat operator who intentionally cuts the line. That’s what authorities have determined happened in this incident involving the mother and her two children. It’s also what happened back in December 1990, when a couple went parasailing off Sand Key. George Myers and his fiancée, Kathleen Carletta, were airborne when the man operating the boat pulling the parasail cable decided to cut the line. He did so in an attempt to prevent his boat from capsizing, intending to allow the couple to land safely in the water.
The parasail chair floated down to the water, but Myers’ foot became tangled in the line. When the parasail was picked up by the wind again, it took Myers with it. He was dragged across the beach, a car lot, a construction site, and two tennis courts before his foot was severed and he was left wedged underneath a fence, unconscious. He succumbed to his injuries two weeks later.
Our Florida parasailing accident attorneys represented Myers' family, overcoming outlandish arguments by the defense regarding our client's familial relationships, race, and claims that he was not a strong swimmer.
Our attorneys fought to find justice for Myers' family and prevailed with a nearly $4.5 million verdict.
This latest incident involving a mother and her children serves as a reminder of the devastating effects of parasailing negligence and wrongdoing. In the case involving Myers, we worked with experts to determine and prove why the captain should not have cut the line. In Monday’s tragedy, the same questions must be asked.
Why did the captain see fit to cut the line?
Was it the right decision, or did this choice lead to two children’s injuries and the loss of their mother?
According to an initial report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the captain cut the line because the parasail had caught a gust of wind and was in danger of dragging the boat with it. He may have hoped to catch the mother and her children after they came down to the water, but they were dragged instead and hit the bridge. In this case, his decision had horrific consequences.
Our thoughts are with the children, their father, and the family during this difficult time. We will continue to follow this investigation as it progresses.