Kathleen Mary Mulcahy Miskell began step-dancing when she was 3-years old, volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, worked in orphanages in Honduras and organized youth Irish football leagues. She helped teach middle school children, was studying for a master’s degree, was married and just bought a new home.
She was the kind of woman who wanted to taste everything, said her father, James Mulcahy, a retired widower from Manchester, Conn. who helped raise Kathleen, 28, and her older sister, Erin, 30, after their mother died 12 years ago.
So when Kathleen had the chance to try parasailing while vacationing in South Florida this week, she called her father to tell him how excited she and her husband Stephen, 31, were about the prospect of floating weightlessly above the ocean, like birds hoisted onto a giant circular kite in the sky.
But somewhere high above the Atlantic Ocean Wednesday afternoon, Kathleen Miskell lost her wings.
“It was the last time I spoke to her,’’ her father said, remembering his daughter’s call that morning.
While riding tandem with her husband on an excursion led by Waveblast Water Sports in Pompano Beach, authorities say the harness that attached her to a bar, which in turn was connected to the sail, failed. And Miskell dropped some 200 feet — the equivalent of 20 stories — into the ocean, as her husband watched helplessly from his perch above.
She was found face down in the water, and attempts to revive her were unsuccessful.
On Thursday, as her family in Connecticut grieved, investigators from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the U.S. Coast Guard and other authorities began the task of analyzing the accident. Government leaders and lawmakers also called — once again — for regulation of an industry that, for decades, has managed to evade any oversight.
In fact, in Florida, all you need to run a parasail business is a boat, some equipment, insurance and a licensed boat captain. And after making a deal with a property owner to hang out a shingle somewhere, you’re in business, earning as much as $300,000 to $400,000 per year per boat, according to Mark McCulloh, who is considered the founding father of parasailing and chairman of the Parasail Safety Council.
There are no state or federal laws that apply to parasailing. There are no inspections, no training required and the equipment doesn’t even have to be in good order. And in truth, a parasail operator doesn’t even have to know how to operate a parasail before he or she opens a business.
Pompano Beach Mayor Lamar Fisher said his efforts to get lawmakers to regulate the industry “fell on deaf ears” when he unsuccessfully tried following the death of 15-year-old Amber White, who was hurtled across the beach into a building when a wind gust snapped the line of her parasail in 2007.
Amber’s aunt, Dina White said the family has tried to get laws passed regulating safety. They even started an online petition drive — www.rememberamber.com — to raise awareness.
“It’s a blind faith that someone has checked the equipment and knows what they are doing,” she said.
State Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Sunny Isles Beach, has proposed laws to help regulate the industry several times, but each year the measure gets “caught in some committee that handles tourism,’’ and is opposed by lawmakers who believe it’s “too much government.’’