A mother was killed and her son and nephew were injured after they hit a bridge during a parasailing accident in the Florida Keys Monday.
The accident happened before 5:30 p.m. when 33-year-old Supraja Alaparthi; her son Sriakshith Alaparthi, 10; and her nephew Vishant Sadda, 9; were parasailing and the winds picked up and slammed them into the old Seven Mile Bridge west of Marathon, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials said.
"Severe weather is a factor with this boating accident," stated an incident report from the FWC.
The incident report said a strong gust of wind "pegged" the parasail after the three victims were in flight, meaning when a parasail chute becomes controlled by the weather conditions (wind speed) and not by the vessel's operation.
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With the parasail pegged, the captain cut the line tethered to the three victims, the report said. They were dropped from an unknown height and were dragged through the surface of the water until the parasail collided with the bridge.
Paramedics were called to the scene, where Supraja Alaparthi was declared dead. Vishant Sadda was transported to Miami for additional treatment, and Sriakshith Alaparthi had minimal injuries.
The family is from Schaumburg, Illinois, and were in the Keys for a vacation.
The FWC and the U.S. Coast Guard are investigating the crash.
“Our condolences are with the family and loved ones of those affected by Monday’s accident,” Capt. Jason Ingram, Coast Guard Sector Key West commander, said in a news release. “This was a tragedy for a family seeking to enjoy their visit to the Florida Keys. Our team, and our partners at Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, are investigating the accident to determine the causal factors and mitigate future casualties to make the waterways as safe as possible.”
Parasail expert Mark McCulloh said a parasail becomes “pegged” when the parasail can no longer be controlled by the boat, and that cutting a line at that time is not standard protocol.
“In a high wind, the parasail is not going to land and collapse, number one, it’s going to keep on going," he said. “You never cut the line when you’re in mid-flight. Because then you’ve lost total control of it."
An employee of the parasail company used, Light House Parasail Inc. out of Marathon, told NBC 6 they are "devastated" and are cooperating with authorities during the investigation.
A charter fisherman wrote on Facebook that he saw the boat parasailing into a storm and that conditions went from calm to 30 mph in a matter of seconds. He said he saw the parasail line break and the victims slam into the bridge.
In 2014, the Florida state legislature passed new laws following several deadly parasailing accidents, some of which require operators to carry $2 million in liability coverage and are prohibited from operating a parasail in certain weather conditions, including when winds reach 20 mph. The law also requires safety briefings for passengers.
"One of the key things I think that was really important and I stressed in the meetings was the safety briefings," said McCulloh, who also created the Parasail Safety Council and was directly involved in the push for legislation.
"When it comes to weather, the general public know when they see a storm coming," he said. "Everybody knows it — you see a frontal system, the wind changes, the temperature changes. Don't be afraid to tell the captain, 'I don't want to fly, I don't want to go up in the air right now.'"