Parasail company closed day after woman’s death in Pompano Beach
Investigators say a harness broke while a vacationing couple was at least 150 feet in the air.
08/16/2012 5:00 AM
09/08/2014 6:02 PM
A woman on vacation from Connecticut plummeted to her death Wednesday afternoon when her harness broke while she was parasailing with her husband off Pompano Beach.
Kathleen Miskell, 28, fell 150 to 200 feet — the equivalent of 15 to 20 stories — into the water, Pompano Beach Fire-Rescue spokeswoman Sandra King said. Stephen Miskell, who rode next to his wife in a side-by-side harness, was safely reeled into the boat.
Once Stephen was aboard, the boat captain navigated to Kathleen, who was face down in the water, King said. She was pulled into the boat and CPR was performed during the seven to eight minutes it took to get to shore where paramedics were waiting.
Miskell was taken to Broward Health North where she was pronounced dead, according to Carli Segelson, spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is investigating the accident.
“When you fall a distance like that it’s almost like falling on a solid surface,” King said.
The couple were on an excursion led by Wave Blast Water Sports, which operates out of the Sands Harbor Hotel.
The 28-foot black-and-white boat was driven out of the water about 10 p.m. Wednesday night by Luke Galgano, who works for Wave Blast.
“We run a very safe operation,’’ Galgano said. “We have the best of the best equipment and this is just a freak accident that happened. The harness is made out of Kevlar and nylon straps, I believe. We have been in operation 7 to 9 years, nothing has happened. I’m sorry for the family, sorry for their loss.”
The boat was taken to the FWC Port Everglades office in Fort Lauderdale as evidence and the two crew members who were aboard the boat were taken to the hospital for drug and alcohol testing.
Donna E. Albert, the attorney representing the company, prohibited anyone related to the company to talk or post pictures on social media sites.
Wave Blast owner Zachary Chandler could not be reached for comment. A person who answered a phone number listed for him said Chandler wasn’t going to talk about what happened, then hung up.
Wave Blast’s office was closed Thursday.
Inside the Sands Harbor Hotel was a brochure for the company advertising a Jet-Ski/Parasail $30 value.
“Parasail above the beautiful blue ocean,” it reads.
The Miskells were the only passengers on Wednesday’s excursion.
By Wednesday night friends back in Wethersfield, Conn., where the couple lived, began hearing of Kathleen Miskell’s death.
“For [Stephen] to go through watching her fall and then trying to get her, it had to be really devastating for him,’’ friend Jim Flynn said.
Kathleen Miskell worked in the school system and Stephen Miskell owned his own tiling company, Flynn said.
“They had just bought a house together in the last six to eight months,” he said.
When reached late Wednesday, Kathleen’s sister Erin Mulcahy was shocked to learn about the fatal accident.
“She was my everything,’’ Mulcahy said of her sister.
Although King, with the fire-rescue department, said a broken harness led to the accident, Parasail Safety Council Chairman Mark McCulloh said he found that hard to accept.
“In my 40 years of experience, I have never heard of one person falling out of a tandem harness,” said McCulloh, who has served as an expert witness in several parasail accident cases.
McCulloh said in a tandem flight, it’s hard to believe that only half would break. There could have been other issues that led to the accident, such as the harness being too large for Miskell, or a belt clip breaking.
Wednesday’s accident is not the first time someone has been killed while parasailing in Pompano Beach.
In August 2007, 15-year-old Amber White died when a sudden gust of wind snapped the line and sent Amber and her sister hurtling across the beach and into a nearby building. The boat operator was criticized for ignoring an oncoming storm.
In 2001, a mother and daughter from Kentucky vacationing in Fort Myers Beach died when the harness yoke carrying them snapped in an afternoon storm. Lisabeth Bailey-Straney and 13-year-old Taylor Straney fell 200 feet into shallow water in the Gulf of Mexico.
In July 1997, two Virginia teenagers were struck by lightning while parasailing in Naples. The teens suffered second- and third-degree burns from the strike.
In June 2010, a father and his 6-year-old daughter suffered bumps and bruises when their parasail malfunctioned and bounced them across the water and into the sea wall near Miami’s Bayside Marketplace.
Between 1992 and 2001, there were 59 parasailing accidents nationally resulting in 64 injuries and three deaths, according to a study by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Currently, there are no state or federal regulations that apply specifically to parasailing. The boats are governed by the same licensing rules that apply to all commercial vessels. The Professional Association of Parasail Operators also has its own safety recommendations, such as inspecting tow lines daily for damage and requiring passengers to be at least 6 years old.
After Amber White’s death, state Sen. Gwen Margolis drafted a bill requiring parasail operators to stay more than 2,000 feet from shore; requiring them to carry minimum amounts of liability insurance and to stay off the water when the wind is stronger than 20 knots. But that bill, and a similar one introduced in 2011, failed.
Jason Chalik, an attorney who has handled about six parasail injury or death cases in the last three years, including White’s case, said the biggest frustration is the lack of regulations.
“A lot of times it’s just a guy on a boat looking to make money,” he said.
McCulloh said his group has also pushed for changes.
“It’s fallen on deaf ears,” he said “How many people have to die before they do something?”
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