TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — New details have surfaced about a parasailing accident that left a mother dead and two children injured in the Florida Keys.
According to the Miami Herald, Supraja Alaparthi, 33, was killed and her son, Sriakshith Alaparthi, 10, and nephew, Vishant Sadda, 9, were injured after the parasail they were riding hurtled into the Old Seven Mile Bridge. The family was visiting the Florida Keys from Schaumburg, Illinois.
The incident occurred at about 5 p.m. Monday as a cluster of scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms pushed off the mainland. Wind gusts in the area were up to 28 knots, or about 32 mph, according to Jonathan Rizzo, National Weather Service Key West’s warning coordinator meteorologist.
“It was pretty much flat calm, but you could see the storm coming. All of the sudden, the temperature dropped by 10 degrees and the wind started blowing like crazy,” said John Callion, a charter fishing guide and good Samaritan who witnessed the incident and brought the boys to safety.
Callion said he and his passengers watched the cable snap and the family drop into the water. He believes they were dragged about a mile or two across the surface before hitting the bridge.
The tarpon guide said he raced after the family as soon as he saw them go into the water. He cut their harness to free them from the chute, which got caught on the bridge, and brought them onto his boat, where he and his passengers began CPR. He took the family to Sunset Grill Marina, where they were met by paramedics.
“It was pretty much the worst thing you could imagine,” Callion said. “It was real bad.”
Supraja Alaparthi was pronounced dead at the scene and the children were taken to Fishermen’s Hospital in Marathon. Her son, Sriakshith, had minimal injuries. Her nephew, Vishant, was listed in critical condition, according to reports.
“Our condolences are with the family and loved ones of those affected by Monday’s accident,” said Coast Guard Sector Key West commander, Capt. Jason Ingram, in a statement. “This was a tragedy for a family seeking to enjoy their visit to the Florida Keys.”
Authorities investigating the case say the wind caused the parasail to peg. This means the sail was being controlled by the wind, and it was so full of air that it risked dragging the boat.
“Under normal parasailing operations, it is the operation of the vessel, in particular the speed of the vessel, that creates the wind to lift the parasail into the air. The operator of the vessel controls the height of the parasail by increasing or decreasing the speed of the vessel. This enables the parasail operator to safely conduct and control parasailing operations,” the report said.
The boat’s captain, 49-year-old Daniel Couch, feared the sail would drag the boat and endanger others, so he purposefully cut the cable that connected their harness to the boat, the report said.
He was hoping to catch the family on their way down, a law enforcement source told the Herald.
“He never should have done that,” said Mark McCulloh, chairman of the Florida-based Parasail Safety Council. “That’s the golden rule. Do not cut the line.”
McCulloh said he has been in similar situations, but would wait for the storm to pass.
“I know exactly what that captain was feeling but you never cut the boat line, no way. I would never train somebody to do that. That’s their lifeline,” McCulloh told NBC News.
“I would rather wait out the storm, even if it scares the hell out of the passengers. I would rather have them come and yell at me for being an idiot than what’s happened here,” he continued. “Even if I was being dragged backward or had a hard time … I would just wait until the wind dies down.”
Couch worked for Lighthouse Parasail. Neither he nor the business’ co-owners could be reached for comment, according to the newspaper.