The death of a South Carolina tourist off Longboat Key is a reminder why government regulation, despite the current climate in Tallahassee, still has a valuable function in society. Exactly why David Sieradzki, 31, died Monday while parasailing won't be known until completion of an autopsy. But this is the second parasailing death off Florida's west coast in a year, a reminder that this inherently dangerous activity needs to come under government standards, particularly when it is being offered as a commercial activity.
Sieradzki died after the boat towing him 800 feet above the Gulf of Mexico lost power, causing him to drop into the water. Authorities believe he was alive after hitting the water. But at some point, as the crew of the parasail boat Almost Heaven pulled him in — and as his wife looked on — Sieradzki is believed to have lost consciousness, dying a short time later. He was wearing a life jacket. Both the Coast Guard and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are investigating.
Sieradzki's death marks the fifth parasailing fatality in Florida since 2001. The Parasail Safety Council estimates 325 people nationwide have been injured or died from the activity since 1980. The council initially opposed regulation — saying operators could police themselves — but now supports it.
Yet, no federal and state agency is charged with inspecting or certifying parasail operations of Florida's estimated 70 to 120 parasailing operators. The Coast Guard issues parasail boat permits but does not inspect the craft. More needs to be done to ensure the safety of parasail customers, many of whom may be unaware of the risks they face in being towed hundreds of feet in the sky by unregulated boat operators who may also be uncertified, underinsured and uninspected.
State Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, and Rep. Jim Frishe, R-Belleair Bluffs, attempted to pass commonsense regulation during the 2011 legislative session. They called it the Alejandra White Act after a 27-year-old parasailing victim from Georgia who died off Clearwater Beach in September. The bill would have required harnesses to have emergency releases, imposed $1 million-per-person insurance coverage on parasail owners and other measures. But the bill never had a chance in a session where Republican leaders boasted of plans to dramatically scale back business regulations. It was not heard in a single House committee.
Florida's economy depends on its reputation as a safe and fun place for tourists. Self-policing by the parasailing industry isn't getting the job done. It's past time for Tallahassee to regulate parasail operators.