Horrific parasailing crash inspires new push for tougher safety laws

2:27 PM, Jul 5, 2013   |    comments
Alexis Fairchild and Sidney Good were critically injured in a parasailing crash in Panama City Beach.
  • Share
  • Print
  • - A A A +
Dave Heller Video Stories
More David Heller Stories

Tallahassee, Florida - A parasailing crash that critically injured two teenage girls in Panama City Beach this week is placing worldwide attention on Florida's rules for commercial parasail businesses.

State Sen. Maria Sachs believes those businesses are underinsured, under regulated and she's vowing to continue pushing for stricter parasailing laws.

Seventeen-year-olds Alexis Fairchild and Sidney Good were on a tandem parasail being towed by a boat when the cable snapped on Monday. The girls smashed into the side of a condominium tower and a power pole before crashing onto an SUV in a parking lot.

About 100 commercial parasail businesses operate in Florida. The state has recorded 19 accidents over the past decade, killing six people and injuring 18.

Florida currently has a law regulating commercial parasail operators, but Sen. Sachs says it's too weak.

Last spring, she filed a bill requiring these businesses to have a minimum of $1 million in liability insurance. It also would have required them to use a marine radio, log weather conditions and have a valid license from the U.S. Coast Guard.

But the bill failed to move through the legislative process. It passed one Senate committee, but never got a hearing in the conservative House.

"The problem that we have in the Florida Legislature is that some folks just don't like too much government regulation. So what we did is we pulled out a lot of the government regulation and we put in increased insurance requirements," said Sen. Sachs.

But Sachs says Republican leaders in the House believe her amended legislation deserves a closer look next year.

"I'm confident. I'm ready to go. We've got it redrafted and we are renewed in our commitment to make this happen so that these tragic accidents don't occur again."

Florida's current law for parasailing businesses (327.37 F.S.) requires a parasail towing boat to have at least two employees - one to operate the boat and the other to watch the parasail at all times.

It also prohibits parasails from rising higher than 500 feet and bans them from flying when winds are above 20 miles an hour or visibility is less than two miles.

Sen. Sachs filed her parasailing legislation following the death of Kathleen Miskell in Pompano Beach in August, 2012. The 28-year-old woman from Connecticut fell into the water when her parasail's harness broke.

Sachs named the bill the White-Miskell Act, also in honor of 15-year-old Amber White who died when her parasail's line snapped off Pompano Beach in 2007.

Sen. Sachs says stricter rules are clearly needed for commercial parasail businesses.

"They're attracting tourists, they're attracting our Floridians here and they're not operating in a safe way. We just can't have this going on anymore."

Fairchild and Good are making slow progress in their recovery. Their parasail broke as a storm approached.

Sachs' bill would prohibit parasail rides when a storm approaches. State records show high winds or gusts are often a factor in parasail accidents.

She says most people who strap on a harness for a parasail ride probably don't realize that too many commercial parasail operators are underinsured and under regulated.

She aims to change that.

"If you want to do business in the state of Florida, then you need to comply with the most stringent requirements for safety because we are a destination resort. We want to make sure that everybody understands that if they want to enjoy our beautiful beaches and the parasailing opportunities, they need to operate safely, that they are regulated by the state and that they have full insurance requirements."

Most Watched Videos