CLEARWATER — An afternoon parasail ride off Clearwater Beach went horribly wrong Sunday when the tether between a towboat and passenger harness broke, sending one man plunging into the water and his fiancee crashing into the beach on a runaway parachute.
The female passenger, Alejandra White, 27, suffered life-threatening injuries after she was dragged behind the chute, through beach umbrellas and into a post on a volleyball court.
Clearwater spokeswoman Joelle Castelli said White is from Georgia and was enjoying the weekend with Shaun Ladd, her fiance, also from Georgia.
"His line broke and he fell in the water and swam to shore. He suffered minor bruises and bumps. She drifted further and ended up hitting some beach umbrellas and chairs and the final thing she hit was a 4-by-4 piece of wood that holds up a volleyball net," Castelli said.
White was transported to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg by helicopter.
Hospital chaplain Doug Harrell said White was in "very critical" condition, and family members were on their way from the Atlanta area. Harrell said Ladd was with White at the hospital. Other media outlets reported Sunday night that White had died.
Ladd suffered minor injuries and swam to shore after he hit the water near the Barefoot Beach House restaurant.
After the crash, the boat, owned by Sky Screamer Parasailing of Clearwater, was met by a Coast Guard vessel at the Clearwater Municipal Marina, officials said. Calls to the company Sunday evening were not returned.
A Coast Guard spokeswoman said the reason for the tether detaching is being investigated with the help of Clearwater police and other agencies.
Castelli added that the accident appeared to happen when the fair afternoon weather took a turn and winds picked up.
The parasail industry has come under scrutiny after several accidents in recent years.
Two teenage girls from Georgia were rescued in 2004 near Madeira Beach when their chute became detached and tangled with buildings and power lines.
In July 2001, a mother and her 13-year-old daughter from Kentucky were killed after their tow line broke in stormy weather. They fell 200 feet into 4 feet of water off Fort Myers.
And a 15-year-old girl was killed in a parasailing accident in Pompano Beach in 2007.
Information from Times archives was used in this report.