Footage shows a Florida boat captain slashing a cable connecting a parasailing woman and two children to his boat, leaving them to drag across the surface of the water near the Florida Keys before they struck a bridge.
Supraja Alaparthi, 33, of Schaumburg, Illinois, was found dead when another boat captain discovered her and the two children — Alaparthi’s son, 10-year-old Sriakshith Alaparthi, and her nephew, 9-year-old Vishant Sadda — and handed the trio over to authorities in Marathon, The Miami Herald reported.
Authorities believe that the strong winds began to peg the sail, threatening to drag the boat, WANE-TV reported. The 49-year-old captain Daniel Couch cut the cables as a precaution, hoping to catch the riders later.
“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,” an investigative report into the incident stated, according to WANE-TV.
“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,” John Callion, a charter fishing guide who witnessed the tragedy and brought the children to safety, told WANE-TV.
Although Callion witnessed the parasailers dropping to the water, he did not see them striking the Old Seven Mile bridge since he began to rush towards the site where they dropped as soon as he saw them falling, the Herald reported.
When Callion reached the crash site, he and his passengers helped Alaparthi and the children board.
Alaparthi’s son, Sriakshith, remained conscious even though he was injured, whereas her nephew was unconscious and was wrapped in the parasail’s lines, the fishing guide told the Herald.
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“It was pretty much the worst thing you could imagine,” Callion told the newspaper. “It was real bad.”
Alaparthi was pronounced dead at the scene of the incident. The children were hospitalized. Sriakshith suffered minimal injuries, whereas Vishant was taken to a Miami hospital for further treatment.
“Our condolences are with the family and loved ones of those affected by Monday’s accident,” Coast Guard Sector Key West commander Capt. Jason Ingram said in a statement.
“This was a tragedy for a family seeking to enjoy their visit to the Florida Keys,” Ingram continued.
“Our team, and our partners at Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, are investigating the accident to determine the causal factors and mitigate future casualties to make the waterways as safe as possible,” the captain said.
“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,” Parasail Safety Council founder Mark McCulloh said, according to NBC News.
“It’s happened to me too many times, and I’ve got caught in weather like that,” McCullah told the outlet. “I waited for the storm to pass.”
“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,” McCullah continued.
“Even if I was being dragged backward or had a hard time … I would just wait until the wind dies down.”