MARATHON, Fla. – Officials say severe weather was a factor in a deadly parasailing incident that left a 33-year-old mother dead and her 10-year-old son and 9-year-old nephew injured.
The three, who were visiting from Illinois, were taking part in a parasailing adventure near Marathon on a 31-foot commercial parasailing vessel Monday evening, according to the investigation report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
But shortly after the three went airborne, a strong gust of wind "pegged" the parasail, meaning it was now so full of air it was being controlled by the wind, not the boat.
Investigators say the captain cut the tether to the chute to prevent the boat becoming ragged by the strong wind, causing the three to drop from an unknown altitude and then become dragged along the surface of the water by the wind-filled chute.
The wind carried the chute for quite some distance until the parasail collided with the old 7-Mile Bridge west of Pigeon Key, investigators said. Another boater who had witnessed the incident rushed to the scene to find the mother unconscious and the two children injured, according to WSVN-TV in Miami. The boater raced the three to shore to awaiting medics, but the mother was pronounced dead. The nephew was transferred to a Miami hospital while the son was treated for minor injuries.
A Good Samaritan boater who witnessed the incident and was the first to reach the crash scene said the winds went from "flat calm to blowing 30 mph in a matter of seconds," according to WSVN.
Mark McCulloh, a Florida parasailing safety consultant, told the Associated Press boat captains should never cut the cord when people are in the air, because the captain then loses control of the parasail.
Parasailing is prohibited by Florida state law if sustained winds are more than 20 mph, if wind gusts exceed 25 mph or are 15 mph higher than the sustained wind speed, if rain or fog reduces visibility to less than a half mile, or if lightning is within 7 miles of the area.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Coast Guard will investigate the crash and agencies will examine the weather as part of the investigation into the tragic accident.