State News

Parasailing captain unaware of weather advisory before fatal accident

Posted September 24, 2009

— The captain of a parasailing boat involved in a fatal accident last month said Thursday that he didn't know the National Weather Service issued a warning to boaters hours before two tourists were killed.

Cynthia Woodcock, 60, of Kernersville, and Lorrie Shoup, 55, of Granby, Colo., were parasailing off Ocean Isle Beach on Aug. 28 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.

Coast Guard hearing into parasail accident Parasail boat passengers recall women's deaths

The U.S. Coast Guard is holding a three-day hearing to collect information about the incident to determine whether the government should impose safety regulations on the parasailing industry.

Barrett McMullan, the president of parasail operator N.C. Watersports, testified Wednesday that a strong wind gust caught the crew of Tied High by surprise. The winds were so strong that the boat almost capsized before the tow line broke, he said.

Sybil Carpenter of Cary, Woodcock's niece, who was on the boat at the time of the accident, said Thursday that passengers begged the crew to reel the women back in as the winds picked up.

"I looked at the captain and said, 'Can't you bring them in? Isn't it time to bring them in?'" Carpenter said. "He said, 'I'm trying.'" So, we're holding on for dear life."

Mike Carpolo, a forecaster with the National Weather Service, said Thursday that the agency issued a small-craft advisory for the North Carolina coast at about 1 p.m. to warn boaters of dangerous conditions. Tropical Storm Danny was moving north offshore and was kicking up wind and waves along much of the coast.

"Variation in weather is expected – wind gusts, wind speeds, sea heights," Carpolo said. "It's not unusual to see winds gust in front of a thunderstorm."

Thomas Povazan, the captain of Tied High, testified that he didn't know about the advisory.

"Did you know there was a small-craft advisory issued on Aug. 28th?" Coast Guard Lt. Chester Warren asked Povazan Thursday morning.

"No, I did not," Povazan replied.

"Did the owner or the company make you aware that there was a small-craft advisory issued on that date?"

"No," he said.

"Did you know there was a weather advisory issued for that date?"

"No."

Deckhand Chris Eckert said everything was fine until the sudden wind gust.

"It came out of nowhere and just overpowered us," Eckert said. "There was too much force on the rope, and it broke."

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.

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

Woodcock's cousin, Tom Collins, said he hopes her death will serve a purpose.

"I don't want to put anyone out of business, and we're not looking to do that or to hurt anyone," Collins said. "It's just that we don't want more lives lost."

33 Comments

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  • live_the_truth Sep 25, 9:32 a.m.

    Not for nothin' - I'm really sorry about the loss of life... BUT, I live way up here in Raleigh and knew there was an advisory at the coast - how could they not know?? Anybody doing business down there would have had one eye on the sky - and the news crews were down there documenting the high wind and waves. I just find it unbelievable that they didn't know there was a warning.

    Those companies are just out to make money, with no thought to consequences. Period.

  • G-man Sep 25, 8:56 a.m.

    He must have been deaf, dumb and blind. The boat ride out alone should have been enough warning.

  • mlwhite82 Sep 25, 8:52 a.m.

    I have been parasailing before and I was scared the whole time, just imagining that the line would break. I wonder how long it took for these women to hit the water, you would think that the wind kept them in the air for a while.

    I was in Mexico and they had a weight limit of 250lbs max for 1 or 2 people. Aren't there weight restrictions in NC??

  • EverythingTicksMeOff Sep 25, 8:32 a.m.

    injameswetrust, exactly how is the average person who has never parasailed or owned a boat supposed to know if the weather conditions are compatible with parasailing? Uh, ya think, that maybe they would ask the captain of the boat that's going to take them out? And he doesn't know the weather forecast? Were these ladies supposed to check over his entire boat and make sure he had life jackets? Fire extinguishers? Adequate radio gear? Were they supposed to ask him to show them the rope? Were they supposed to conduct a strength test on the rope, and maybe use their knowledge of physics and calculus to predict the loads on the rope based on assumptions about wind speeds contained in the weather forecast? OH, WAIT! I FORGOT! They didn't check the weather forecast. Silly cows. It's their fault. Yes the waiver should contain as much weasil language as possible to prevent innocent victims of negligent operators like this from suing. Great idea!

  • EverythingTicksMeOff Sep 25, 8:26 a.m.

    Gee, howdiditgettothis. I suppose if you want to fly on an airline you should check the weather first? Tell the captain you don't think it's safe? Don't be ridiculous. You really think that these ladies should have checked the weather? And if they did, how exactly were they to know if the weather was going to be outside the safety limits for parasailing? Hmmmm? When the public participates in these "risky" sports offered by commercial operators, they depend on the commercial operators to be competent, to know what they are doing, and to only offer their services when it is safe to do so. A boat captain who doesn't check the weather? Utterly irresponsible. Yes, a lawsuit is entirely appropriate here. And this idiot captain has demonstrated why operations like this need to be regulated. My mind is simply boggled by the idea that a commercial operator didn't check to make sure it was safe before he took a number of customers out to engage in a "risky" sport. Simply amazing.

  • a507251 Sep 25, 8:11 a.m.

    Wait a minute - a guy who makes his living as a boat captain and he doesn't know the current advisories or that a tropical storm was moving up the coast. And - none of the crew knew anything about the current conditions. Coast Guard needs to pull his Capt. Lic. I'm a recreational fisherman (and surfer) in Raleigh and I check the coastal advisories on a daily basis.

  • injameswetrust2003 Sep 24, 7:53 p.m.

    On the waiver that I am presuming the victims signed, I wonder if their is a phrase, "I have checked the weather conditions and they are safe for this activity." If not, there should be.

  • howdiditgettothis Sep 24, 7:45 p.m.

    I am not minimizing the tragedy here - because yes, it is terrible that these ladies died, and that family witnessed the accident helplessly unable to do anything to rescue them.

    However, I do not agree anyone should be sued.

    One who partakes in risky "sports" is made well aware of the consequences -- (those waivers the people probably signed before being taken out).

    It always amazes me that so many people feel someone ELSE is responsible for their (poor) choice.

    Heck - while they are suing, why not sue the weather channel for not posting bill boards about it?

    Or the hotel, for not calling to let each and every guest know that there might be bad weather........

  • luvbailey Sep 24, 5:25 p.m.

    "It is utimately up to the captain of the boat to insure the safety of the vessel, the crew, and passengers."

    That says it all. While i am not a licensed USCG Captain, i did pass the US Power Squadron safety course before acquiring my small boat. It is emphasized over and over: as the Captain (USCG licensed or not) you are responsible for what happens to your boat and the passengers on your boat.

  • bikinibare Sep 24, 4:30 p.m.

    He must have been the only person that was not aware of an advisory.

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