A man vacationing with his family in Myrtle Beach lost both of his legs in a parasailing accident. Henry Owens was in the midst of transferring from the parasailing vessel to a banana boat (a long yellow raft) when he fell into the water and his legs got caught in the propellers of the parasailing vessel. The Post and Courier reports that Owens said, “I remember going underneath. The propellers were there. I was trying to work my way up and my legs got caught in the propellers.”
Owens was taken to Grand Strand Regional Medical Center, where he was put into a medically-induced coma for two days. Afterwards, both of his legs had to be amputated above the knee.
The Coast Guard is investigating this incident, according to Lt. L.B. Zorn, spokesperson for the Charleston sector of the Coast Guard.
The Post and Courier reports,
Parasailing doesn’t fall under the jurisdiction of any public authority in South Carolina: It is not overseen by the department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which inspects amusement rides, nor by the Department of Natural Resources, which registers and titles watercraft.
The U.S. Coast Guard doesn’t have jurisdiction over parasailing either, though it does issue licenses for boat captains that ferry paying customers.
The Coast Guard also inspects some watercraft annually, but the boat involved in the Myrtle Beach incident was small enough that it did not have to be inspected, said Lt. J.B. Zorn, spokesperson for the Charleston sector of the Coast Guard.
Another Myrtle Beach customer fractured a hip earlier in the summer, in the same process of transferring from the parasailing boat to a banana boat.
Matthew Dvorak of the Water Sports Industry Association (WSIA) said parasailing has been unregulated in most of the United States until a few years ago, after video captured several high-profile accidents. At that time, best practices were drafted by members of the industry.
The Myrtle Beach Sun News reports, “The parasailing industry remains largely unregulated in South Carolina as other states step up regulations in the wake of several high-profile accidents that were caught on video.”
The Coast Guard has also put pressure on the WSIA. Dvorak said, “It got to the point where they said, ‘You either do this, or we’ll do it for you.’ “
These best practices guidelines, which mostly refer to what to do in bad weather and poor water conditions, “served as a basis for legislation that since have passed in several states, including Florida,”, per Dvorak. Since the WSIA wrote these best practices, safety statistics have dramatically improved.
Because of inadequate regulations of the parasailing industry in South Carolina, there are no legal requirements as to “what conditions they may operate in, the quality of their equipment or how much insurance they should carry.” The Post and Courier
Members of the South Carolina industry argue that inspections by insurers do provide some safeguards for their businesses. Members say they self-regulate to avoid accidents like customers who are aloft floating away, or colliding with buildings.
However, “the process of transferring a customer from one craft to another in open water is now being examined by the main parasailing industry group. That transfer is necessary in locations like the Grand Strand, where a long stretch of popular beach means boats can’t pick up customers on the shore.” The Post and Courier
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