State News

Owner: Wind gust caught parasail crew by surprise

Posted September 23, 2009

— The owner of a parasailing operation involved in a fatal accident last month said Wednesday that a strong wind gust caught the boat's crew by surprise and led to the deaths of two tourists.

Barrett McMullan's testimony came in the first day of three days of hearings planned by the U.S. Coast Guard into the Aug. 28 deaths of Cynthia Woodcock, 60, of Kernersville, and Lorrie Shoup, 55, of Granby, Colo.

Cynthia Woodcock, killed in parasailing accident Women's deaths prompt hearing on parasail safety

The two women were parasailing off Ocean Isle Beach when the tow rope connecting their parachute to the boat Tied High snapped, and they plummeted about 500 feet into the choppy water. Autopsies showed the women died of blunt force trauma.

"The tow line separated, and the mate was directed to cut the anchor line so they could go chase the chute and go pick up the people," said McMullan, the president of parasail operator N.C. Watersports.

At one point, he said, one crew member was able to grab hold of the women in the water, he said.

"The chute was still inflated, and trying to hold onto that pressure, I can only imagine, must have been unbelievable," he said. "Eventually, the people were pulled from his arms and taken back out (to sea) again."

McMullan said the Tied High was a new boat and had recently passed inspection. He told Coast Guard officials that he maintains his equipment.

"There is no required maintenance that I am aware of. However, during every off season, I will take all of my parachutes, all of my flight bars and all of my harnesses to (a manufacturing and repair firm) in Florida," he said.

Several of Woodcock's relatives attended the Coast Guard hearing to hear from witnesses about her last moments.

"They're still in the grieving process," cousin Tom Collins said. "It's tough, but we'll get through it."

The Coast Guard is collecting testimony from the Tied High crew, other passengers and the National Weather Service. Officials will forward their findings to a panel in Washington, D.C., which will determine whether the government should impose safety regulations on the parasailing industry.

Neither the Coast Guard nor the state Department of Labor regulate parasail operators. Officials said it is considered a recreational activity, like hang-gliding or skydiving.

"This part of the investigation is not necessarily designed to hold someone accountable," Coast Guard Lt. Chester Warren said. "It's designed to figure out what happened and what we can do to make sure it doesn't happen again."

The Coast Guard officials issued a safety alert last week, reminding parasail operators to closely watch forecasted weather conditions and wind speed.

Tropical Storm Danny was kicking up wind and waves along much of the coast on the day of the fatal accident, but tropical storm watches that covered the Outer Banks didn't extend south as far as Ocean Isle Beach.

27 Comments

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  • koolady Sep 23, 7:07 p.m.

    There is risk involved with that activity. Sometimes accidents happen.

  • Spirit Warrior Woman - Rev. RB Sep 23, 6:57 p.m.

    LB - "What happened to personal accountabilty in people's decisions."

    I understand what you're saying and agree with you.

    But these women trusted the experts, and the experts were the ones who strapped them into the parasail.

    Who among us hasn't done this?

    Ever go to the State Fair, get on a ride, and trust the State Fair inspectors and the ride operator for your safety?

    It's the very same thing.

    God bless.

    RB

  • ladyblue Sep 23, 6:46 p.m.

    The Coast Guard officials issued a safety alert last week, reminding parasail operators to closely watch fore casted weather conditions and wind speed.

    how about not going parasailing when the weather is so unstable. How about closing the parasailing down when they see a storm approaching. next time people don't use judgement in skydiving and other recreational activities, the government will step in on them also. What happened to personal accountabilty in people's decisions..

  • discowhale Sep 23, 6:23 p.m.

    The article says death by blunt force trauma, and it also says plummeted 500 feet.

    Do you folks read the articles, or just comment on the comments?

    It's a sad situation, but they were being towed behind a boat on a parachute. Neither activity is like sitting in Grandma's lap. That's why they have you sign the waivers.

  • Spirit Warrior Woman - Rev. RB Sep 23, 6:15 p.m.

    Why was a wind gust so unexpected???

    There was a tropical storm out to sea for heaven's sakes.

    Praying for the loved ones of these ladies who trusted the employees of this company knew what they were doing.

    God bless.

    RB

  • Barrackawack Sep 23, 6:00 p.m.

    If I remember reading correctly in the Wilmington Star they ended up hitting the pier or tangled up in it. If the chute collapses at 500 or 250 0r even 150 ft. and you hit the water it could kill you. You can very easily dump the air out of one and free fall. We released quite a number of times and floated down safely with mine in almost no wind. You must realize these chutes are made for ascending and not descending without being controlled by the tow line.

  • Liam Sep 23, 5:46 p.m.

    What I don't understand is that when the line snapped and the parasail came down to the water why was it so hard to try to get to the women. They said they attempted to get the women but, the women were eventually dragged out to sea. If they were dragged out to sea then why didn't they go get them. They were in a boat! Doesn't make a darn bit of sense to me.

  • exteacher Sep 23, 4:53 p.m.

    I can't believe they weren't required to sign a waiver of some kind. If that wasn't part of the protocol before, I am sure it will be from now on.

  • Barrackawack Sep 23, 3:43 p.m.

    "Death by Misadventure" I think exteacher would agree with my previous post on this. I owned a parasail and I have skydived and parasailed in the Bahamas and I always signed a waiver of liability and had my friends do the same with my parasail.

  • whocares Sep 23, 3:41 p.m.

    Why would anyone with an ounce of common sense put children in a boat with the water being choppy and the wind blowing hard, and why would anyone with common sense want to go parasailing in conditions like that. If that were me and the captain wanted to go out, it would have been without me.

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