WILMINGTON, N.C. — The president of a national parasailing organization said Friday that more regulations could prevent accidents like the one that killed two women off Ocean Isle Beach last month.
Arrit McPherson's testimony came on the final day of a three-day U.S. Coast Guard hearing to collect information about the Aug. 28 incident. The Coast Guard is trying to determine whether the government should impose safety regulations on the parasailing industry, but a decision isn't expected for months.
Cynthia Woodcock, 60, of Kernersville, and Lorrie Shoup, 55, of Granby, Colo., 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 crew of the Tied High said a sudden gust of wind caught them off guard. The winds were so strong that the boat almost capsized before the tow line broke, they said.
Passengers said they were terrified during the ordeal.
"The kids are screaming. The woman across from me is saying the Lord's Prayer, and we all joined in," said Sybil Carpenter of Cary, Woodcock's niece, who was on the boat at the time of the accident. "We're all holding on for dear life."
Carpenter said she begged Thomas Povazan, the Tied High captain, to reel in her aunt and Shoup as the winds picked up. Povazan said he was trying, but the wind was too strong.
Tropical Storm Danny was moving north offshore that day and was kicking up wind and waves along much of the coast. The National Weather Service issued a small-craft advisory for the North Carolina coast to warn boaters of dangerous conditions, but Povazan said he wasn't aware of the advisory.
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.
McPherson, president of the Professional Association of Parasail Operators, said he doesn't know of any federal, state or local rules that outline even basic training for parasail operators. He said the industry tries to regulate itself – the group offers operators guidelines – but could benefit from more oversight.
"I'd like to see how we could prevent any type of accident," he testified by telephone. "When we do come across accidents, we see what we can do to prevent that from ever occurring again, and a lot of it, quite frankly, is through our experience."
The Professional Association of Parasail Operators has about 70 members, but N.C. Watersports, the company that owns Tied High, doesn't belong to the group.
Woodcock's daughter-in-law, Tyisha Woodcock, attended all three days of the Coast Guard hearing and said she and other family members want to ensure that no one else dies in a parasailing accident.
"To me, it was something that was preventable. You don't go out intending to do this. I even feel sorry for the captain and the boating company," she said. "I feel that they slacked in preparation. Look at the Weather Channel. Listen to the advisories. The information that came out (in the hearing) just really hurts and angers."