News 13 Investigates Parasail Regulation in Wake of Incident - WMBB News 13 - The Panhandle's News Leader

News 13 Investigates Parasail Regulation in Wake of Incident

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In the aftermath of Monday's parasailing incident, the focus turns to regulation. What practices are in place to prevent these tragedies, if any and who is ultimately responsible?

News 13 talked exclusively to the world's leading safety expert on parasailing, who had strong opinions to share.

Mark McCullough is veteran of the sport with more than 30 years experience. He's the inventor of modern parasailing technology, and an expert witness for every parasailing fatality case since the 1970s.

Tuesday, he viewed that shocking footage of Monday's accident that has circulated YouTube.

"Now, in watching that video tape that was online, clearly that weather was not parasailing weather," said McColloh of the storm clouds and winds visible in the clip.

The Chairman of the Parasail Safety Council said regulations should have been in place to keep operators from flying that parasail on Monday; but currently, there are no laws that restrict flying due to bad weather or equipment inspections.

"There are some consensus standards nobody can agree amongst industry operators. There's a lot of discrepancy," said McColloh.

He said it gets down to operator integrity.

In this case, the operator is Aquatic Adventures and boat captain, Tyler Churchwell.

While no charges have been filed for this incident, the company is at the center of two lawsuits; one for alleged negligence in poor weather conditions, resulting in injury.

Churchwell has faced his own maritime infractions. He's previously charged with careless operation of a vessel, operating a water craft without a flotation device and twice with the improper towing a skier.

"Up until a month ago the just got a slap on the wrist or got their license taken away and they would get a small fine. Now, you can do jail time. You can become a convicted felon," said McColloh.

That is if the rider is killed or seriously injured.

McColloh referenced a 2013 case out of St.Thomas, which found the boat captain and parasail company owner guilty of a felony following the death of one of their riders.

It's a warning said Panama City personal injury attorney, Wes Pittman.

"If the skies are getting very dark and ominous looking, or rain is coming down, they're put up in fog or in high winds. It's a recipe for disaster," said Pittman.

It's a disaster he said could have and should been prevented.

Two matching bills in the Florida Legislature were proposed in 2011 and 2012 to strengthen safety regulations for parasailing. Both died in committee.

Currently, the FAA regulates parasails as kites, but that's only in the air.

When on a boat at least three miles from shore it's the Coast Guard's jurisdiction, and when you're three miles out, jurisdiction belongs to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

It makes regulating the sport quite the conundrum according to McColloh. He said parasail operators often receive waivers, allowing them to operate at the will of the boat captain.