Woman killed and two children injured in Florida Keys parasailing accident


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Charter fishing guide John Callion was watching tourists parasailing in the Florida Keys on Memorial Day when the weather turned. Within seconds, the calm conditions turned into 30 mph winds.

“I knew straight away the outcome was going to be bad,” Callion said in a Facebook post.

Under normal conditions, people parasailing on this day would float gently through the air, carried by the parasailer behind them and tied by a rope to a boat guiding them on a scenic adventure. Instead, as Callion watched, a gust of wind swamped the parasail, threatening to drag the 31-foot motorboat, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigators said in a report. So the captain cut the line that attached the parasail to the boat, according to the report, causing it to dive and drop its three passengers into the water.

Propelled by the wind, the parasail itself stayed in the air and flew south, dragging the three occupants – who were still attached to it by a rope – through the water, according to the report. As the parasailing boat chased, Callion began filming, thinking he would capture a dramatic rescue on video.

“But over time it was clear to me that the parasailing boat was in desperate need of help,” he wrote on Facebook.

Callion ran after them in his fishing boat.

Neither vessel was able to intervene before the parasail struck the Old Seven Mile Bridge, a disused span that serves as a fishing pier and pedestrian walkway. At first, Callion didn’t think it was a problem.

“I thought the parachute had hit the bridge and people were just going to swing around when I got there,” he told ‘Good Morning America’ on Wednesday, “but it was actually a much worse situation.”

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What was meant to be a fun activity during a family vacation quickly turned into a gruesome chain of events that left a 33-year-old mother dead. Officials say the woman, Supraja Alaparthi of Schaumburg, Illinois, was with a larger group of relatives vacationing in the Florida Keys. She had been on the parasailing excursion with her 10-year-old son and 9-year-old nephew, who were both injured but survived the collision. The incident is currently under investigation by the US Coast Guard and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Fish and wildlife officials said Alaparthi and the children were out on Monday afternoon with Lighthouse Parasail, an outfit based in Marathon, WPLG reported. Once on the water, Alaparthi strapped in to parasail with the two boys. Shortly after they took off, a gust of wind “anchored” the parasail, an industry term to describe when the parasailing chute becomes a sail that drags the boat to which it is attached. Callion estimated that once detached from the boat, the parasail traveled one to two miles for several minutes at “a high speed” before hitting the deck.

Callion said he was the first boater to arrive at the crash site. There he discovered that the parasail, instead of letting his three passengers hang unharmed, had dragged them into a solid part of the deck, he said in the Facebook post. Callion cut each of them from their harnesses. The 10-year-old boy had only minor injuries, but Alaparthi and his nephew were unconscious, he said. After boarding them, Callion drove his boat to the Sunset Grille & Raw Bar in Marathon as his passengers attempted to revive the unconscious victims.

“It was pretty much the worst thing you could imagine,” he told the Miami Herald. “It was really bad.”

Alaparthi died at the scene, Monroe County Sheriff’s Sgt. Deborah Johnson said in a report; Alaparthi’s 9-year-old nephew was unconscious and “barely breathing”. Although initially delayed due to bad weather, a helicopter eventually transported the 9-year-old to a hospital in Miami.

On Tuesday, the boy’s parents told Callion they expected their son to make a full recovery, Keys Weekly reported.

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The full sequence of events is still under investigation. According to state investigators, the captain of the parasail boat, identified in an incident report as 49-year-old Daniel Couch, cut the line, knocking the three parasails “from an unknown height “. A law enforcement person told the Herald that Couch probably did it thinking he and his crew would then grab Alaparthi and the two children as they fell.

Mark McCulloh, a 1970s parasailing pioneer and president of the Florida-based Parasail Safety Council, told the Herald that Couch should have used other tactics, such as veering from side to side in an effort to deflate parasailing. Cutting the line is considered a no-no.

“He should never have done that,” McCulloh said. “It’s the golden rule. Don’t cut the line.

Lighthouse Parasail did not respond to a Washington Post request for comment.

In his Facebook post, Callion described the incident as “life changing” and ended it by articulating the lessons he learned from it, lessons he hopes others will take to heart as well.

“Never take life for granted,” he said. “Things can change in a second.”


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