After several years of never being taken up in the Florida Legislature, a bill seeking to regulate the state’s parasailing industry is now heading to the Senate Floor. It’s a popular water sport in the Sunshine State that’s ended in tragedy for some.
It was in 2007 when Crystal White and her little sister Amber went parasailing in Pompano Beach.
“I remember right before my sister and I went up, the owner of the company who put us up in the air was talking about the weather and that they might have a storm coming through. But, he says we should be fine, and he put us up anyways,” said Crystal.
She says when she and her sister went up, she recalls having fun…at first.
“I remember being in the air, and at first, it was amazing, and me and my sister were happy. And, then all of a sudden, the wind started blowing really hard, and it started kind of throwing our parasail all over the place,” she added.
And, Crystal says she and her sister were terrified.
“Suddenly, we noticed we were over the beach. And, it felt like we were being pulled and the wind was blowing so hard against us, and we could barely even breathe. And, I just remember screaming and yelling down for the operator of the boat to help me and my sister," said Crystal, fighting tears. "And, then all of a sudden, I heard a loud pop, and that’s all I remember about the accident.”
What happened next was due to windy conditions, the line connected to the parasail broke and they collided into the roof of a hotel. Crystal still suffers from permanent brain damage, but her 15-year-old sister died that day.
That’s why Crystal says she’s in favor of a bill to regulate the parasail industry. The White-Miskell Act is partly named after her sister.
It’s also named after 28-year-old Kathleen Miskell—a tourist from Connecticut. She died in 2012 in a Pompano Beach parasailing accident. Her harness malfunctioned, causing her to drop 200 feet into the water where she drowned.
Their stories touched the heart of Pompano Beach Mayor Lamar Fisher, who’s been trying for years to get legislation passed to regulate that water sport to no avail. And, after the White-Miskell Act unanimously passed its last committee stop Wednesday, Fisher says he couldn’t be happier.
“It’s going to make the difference to where folks will be comfortable in parasailing itself, and so it will make them have an opportunity to those families to understand that their children can hopefully grow up and hopefully be safe at the end of the day because the two deaths that happened were in our city and it was just devastating to us,” said Fisher.
The person leading that legislative charge in the Senate is Delray Beach Democratic Senator Maria Sachs. She says the bill puts in what she calls “common sense” regulations into the sport of commercial parasailing, which is one of the few water sports that has no official guidelines on the books.
“So, what we did is we went to commercial operators themselves. We said what is it that put so much risk in this sport? And, they all said weather. So, what this bill does is it stops parasailing whenever there’s sustained winds of over 20 mph, or when there’s a known lightning storm within seven miles of that operation, they must cease. And, they must have a minimum of insurance of $1 million, which is minimum to do business here in the state of Florida,” said Sachs.
And, now that it’s headed to the floor, how sure is she it could go all the way?
“I am confident…optimistic that we will get this through this year,” added Sachs.
Some at the Capitol believe the bill has a much greater chance of getting through this year because of a parasailing accident that gained national attention and happened in Senate President Don Gaetz’ district.
In that incident, two Indiana teens suffered serious injuries when they went parasailing in Panama City Beach. Authorities say it was due to strong windy conditions. And, one of the girls, Alexis Fairchild, visited the Capital last month to say she supports the bill. Meanwhile, its House companion is close to floor vote. It has one more committee stop.
For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.