MARATHON, Fla. – The attorneys for the family of an Illinois woman who was killed last month in a parasailing accident off the coast of Marathon announced Tuesday that they are filing a lawsuit against the parasail operator.
“The boat captain allowed the group to parasail in terrible weather and ultimately made the decision to cut the parasail line tethering (Supraja) Alaparthi, 33, and the two children when he lost control of the boat,” a news release from The Haggard Law Firm stated.
The accident happened May 30 as Alaparthi was parasailing with her 10-year-old son, Sriakshith Alaparthi, and her 9-year-old nephew, Vishant Sadda.
The family’s lawyers say nine other relatives, including Alaparthi’s 6-year-old daughter, watched from the 31-foot boat as their loved ones were dropped nearly 200 feet into the water and then dragged by strong winds before they crashed into the Old Seven Mile Bridge near Pigeon Key.
Alaparthi was pronounced dead at the scene and the two boys were hospitalized.
According to the family’s attorneys, the trio traveled up to 2 miles before the parasail collided with the bridge.
They said the captain and first mate knew a storm was coming in over an hour before the tragedy and did not make efforts to rescue the family, despite pleas from their relatives on board.
“They saw them screaming, saw them yelling for help as the wind gusted in and took them away from the boat,” attorney Michael Haggard said. “The captain did nothing. They asked to borrow passengers life jackets, indicating that possibly they did not have enough life jackets. They were on cellphones versus a radio that is required.”
The attorneys further alleged that the family, who was on vacation from Schaumburg, Illinois, had told the captain that they could come back the next day because the weather didn’t look good and the parasail company had even canceled voyages the day before, but the captain insisted that they would be fine.
“This weather, they had warnings of this. This was on the radar and was coming in well before that voyage even started,” attorney Pedro Echarte said.
A photo taken of the trio just before the tragedy shows dark clouds above them.
“The pictures tell it all,” Haggard said. “Look at those clouds. You don’t have to be a 20-year captain to see that that’s a problem with the weather.”
John Callion, who works as a fishing guide and was out on his boat at the time, witnessed the tragedy unfold.
“I thought they had it under control first. But for a minute, my customers were like, ‘What’s going on? What are they doing?’” he told ABC’s Good Morning America. “I’m like, ‘It looks like they’re trying to figure out a plan to rescue these people.’ And then, you know, 30 seconds goes by, which seemed much longer and nothing was changing. So then that’s when we sprung into action.”
According to a report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, “The captain cut the line tethered to the three victims” because the parasail was “pegging.”
That is a phrase used to describe when a parasail turns into a sail in high winds and could potentially drag the boat.
“There’s ways he could’ve maneuvered the vessel to try and deflate the sail of, not just the parasail, but also the vessel,” Echarte said. “Unfortunately he did the one thing you’re not supposed to do in this situation, especially when you have winds gusting at the speeds they were gusting at on this day.”
The woman and two children were dropped and “dragged through the water by the inflated parasail...through and across the surface of the water” before colliding with the bridge, the report stated.
Callion and the passengers on his boat pulled the victims from the water. The passengers performed CPR on them as Callion raced everyone to the docks at the nearby Sunset Grille restaurant, where they were met by first responders.
“The kid… he was letting me know, ‘Help me, help me.’ And we got him in the boat immediately. And then we got the other kid that was unconscious. And then we got his mom in the boat,” Callion said.
The report identified the captain of the parasailing boat as Daniel Couch, 49, who works for Lighthouse Parasail Inc., which is based in Marathon.
Local 10 News reached out to Lighthouse Parasail Inc. after the accident, and a co-owner said over the phone that they are “devastated” by what happened.
In addition to filing a lawsuit against Lighthouse Parasail Inc., the attorneys say they also plan to sue Captain Pip’s Marina on behalf of the family, which is the marina Lighthouse Parasail operated out of.
The family is seeking at least $30,000 from the boat operator, but a jury would decide how much they will be given if they win in court.