Parasail captain pleads guilty in women's 2009 deaths
Posted November 14, 2012 4:26 p.m. EST
Updated November 14, 2012 5:16 p.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — The captain of a parasailing boat pleaded guilty Wednesday in the 2009 deaths of two women off Ocean Isle Beach, authorities said.
Thomas Povozan, 45, of West Mifflin, Pa., pleaded guilty to violating the Seaman's Manslaughter Act. He will be sentenced later.
Cynthia Woodcock, 60, of Kernersville, and Lorrie Shoup, 55, of Granby, Colo., died on Aug. 28, 2009, when the tow line to their parasail broke, and high winds sent the parasail plunging 500 feet into the water.
The boat, Tied High, was operated by Ocean Isle Beach Watersports and NC Watersports.
The Tied High crew said during a Coast Guard inquiry in 2009 that 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.
Povozan said during the inquiry that he was unaware the National Weather Service had issued an advisory that day to warn small boats of choppy conditions as Tropical Storm Danny passed offshore.
Prosecutors said Povozan didn't check marine weather forecasts before or during the parasailing trip. He also ordered his deckhand to use a parachute intended for winds of less than 12 mph, despite the fact that the storm has wind gusting up to 23 mph.
About 10 minutes after the two women took off, Povozan realized the wind was too strong and tried to reel in the tow line, causing it to snap, prosecutors said. After the women crashed into the ocean, the wind grabbed the parasail and dragged them along the surface and into the stern of the Tied High as the boat chased after the sail in an attempt to rescue the women, according to prosecutors.
The deckhand was able to deflate the parasail as the boat made a second pass at it, and he and the dead women were pulled from the water a short time later, prosecutors said.
"Parasail operators are entrusted with the safety of their innocent passengers, and this case serves to highlight the consequences of violating that trust by failing to appropriately consider risks, prepare for emergencies and exercise due care," Rear Adm. Steven Ratti, commander of the Coast Guard's 5th District, said in a statement.
A federal judge in Wilmington in September ordered the company that insured Tied High and its owners to finish paying a $100,000 settlement to the women's families.