State News

Parasailing captain unaware of weather advisory before fatal accident

Posted September 24, 2009 11:49 a.m. EDT
Updated September 24, 2009 6:17 p.m. EDT

— 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.

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."