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Parasailing industry may see tougher rules, regulations

Crystal White was enjoying an “amazing” parasailing adventure with her sister Amber in Pompano Beach on a summer day in 2007 when something went horribly wrong. The wind picked up, pulling the boat to shore. The rope attaching the parasail to the boat snapped. The two young girls were first slammed into a beach hotel and then a tree.

White, now 24, sustained head trauma and other injuries but survived. Amber died two days later, just before her 16th birthday.

“We can’t let this happen to someone else,” said the girls’ mother, a tearful Shannon Hively.

She was joined by Crystal at a news conference Thursday to push for legislation to regulate the parasail industry. Alexis Fairchild, 17, who sustained brain injuries in a parasail accident in Panama City last July, Alexis’ mother, Angelia, and the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Maria Sachs and Rep. Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed, were also at the event.

Hively has been trying to get a bill passed for years, but Sachs, D-Delray Beach, and Clarke-Reed, D-Pompano Beach, say they have support this session from Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Will Weatherford, Senate President Don Gaetz, and the parasail industry.

Following Thursday’s news conference, the Senate Committee on Regulated Industries passed SB 320 by a vote of 9-0, with several members wiping their eyes after the parasailing-accident victims and their mothers provided their testimony. The House version passed the Business & Professional Regulation Subcommittee 12-0 on February 4.

Visitors “trust the state of Florida to have water sports and amusement parks that will be suitable and safe for their children,” Sachs said, describing parasailing as an unregulated industry.

Sachs said the proposed bill would institute “common-sense regulations.” Among them:

“The number one risk in parasailing is weather,” Sachs said.

The Parasail Safety Council, which has tracked injuries and deaths nationwide for 30 years, reports that 73 people have been killed and at least 1,600 injured between 1982-2012, during an estimated 150 million parasail rides.

Florida has roughly 120 parasail operators, considered the largest number in the country, said the council’s founder, Mark McCulloh, a parasail inventor and safety expert.