PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. –Two Indiana teenage girls parasailing in Panama City Beach were critically injured Monday when the line that tethered them to the boat snapped, sending them crashing into the side of a high-rise condominium building. The incident, caught on video, has re-ignited a statewide debate on parasailing safety and whether the industry should remain self-regulated.
Sidney Renea Good, 17, of Roanoake, Ind., and Alexis Fairchild, 17, of Huntington, Ind., were parasailing with Aquatic Adventures Monday when the towing line broke and high winds carried them overland. Video shows the girls slamming into one building before hurling into the side of another. They also sailed through power lines and crashed into several parked cars in a lot.
Both girls suffered from head trauma, severe lacerations, and broken bones. Various news outlets reported that the girls remained in critical condition Thursday but were making progress. Sidney sustained extensive neck trauma and Alexis underwent surgery for severe spinal injuries.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is investigating the incident, said that strong storm winds reportedly kept the parasail out of reach of a vessel attempting to recover them.
“These winds kept the chute aloft and several attempts to winch the riders back onto the vessel failed,” the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said in a news release. “The anchor was set to keep the boat from being pulled onto shore. The towline detached and the riders were helpless to control the chute.”
According to WUFT, the gruesome incident has sparked more debate over whether the state’s parasailing industry should be government regulated. Lawmakers in the state have proposed safety rules and standards in the past addressing appropriate weather conditions for parasailing, equipment standards, and boat inspections, but all attempts to pass legislation that would regulate the industry have failed. The most recent attempt to regulate the parasailing industry failed in May.
James Vaught, a managing partner of Aquatic Adventures, spoke to Panama City’s News Herald about his opposition to the proposed safety bill in April.
Had it passed, the bill would have prohibited parasailing operations from moving within 1,800 feet of the shore, required boat operators to have a weather radio onboard that would keep them informed of local conditions, and would have prohibited parasailing during sustained winds stronger than 20 mph, in rainy weather and when visibility is poor.
“Vaught said he believes it should be up to industry leaders to regulate themselves, and spoke in support of a set of international safety standards for parasailing under development by the Water Sports Industry Association (WSIA) in Orlando,” the News Herald reported.
“We’ve started creating our own standards,” Mr. Vaught told the News Herald in April. “We’ve got a good plan going.”
“We’re just not being looked at correctly,” he said of those supporting parasailing regulation. “We’re being looked at like a bunch of rogue pirates.”