Cause sought in N.C. parasailing accident that claimed life of Granby woman
August 30, 2009
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story first appeared on http://www.charlotteobserver.com
Investigators are trying to determine why a tow rope snapped, causing the deaths of two parasailers along the N.C. coast Friday.
Cynthia Woodcock, 60, of Kernersville, N.C., and Lorrie Shoup, 56, of Granby, who were parasailing along the beach, died after they fell into the ocean and eventually became entangled with a pier, according to the U.S. Coast Guard and other sources.
The Coast Guard said an initial report indicated that the rope on the women’s parasail separated from the boat it was connected to, causing their deaths near the Ocean Isle Beach Pier.
In parasailing, people are towed behind boats and are attached to large parachutes, which catch the wind and lift them hundreds of feet into the air.
A Maryland man who pulled one of the women from the surf at the pier, said he saw the whole tragedy unfold.
Jay Jenkins of Waldorf, Md., watched the two women hang in the air behind their boat, he said. Suddenly, the rope that connected them to the boat snapped, and they seemed momentarily suspended in place.
A gust of wind caught the parasail and whipped the women westward, toward the South Carolina line, along the face of the beach. The wind also pushed the parasail downward, sending the women crashing into the water.
The sail then rose and fell several times, each one a new blow to the two parasailers, he said.
But each time they hit the water, it also slowed their progress, eventually to the point where the parasail towboat caught up with the women and circled them in heavy surf in an apparent attempt to rescue them, Jenkins said.
He said the boat nearly capsized in the attempt to save the women and that, at one time, it appeared to try to block the wind that was driving the parasail.
Eventually, the parasail swooped into the midsection of a pier, which finally drove the air out of it, Jenkins said.
Jenkins called the parasail boat driver’s efforts heroic, as well as those of two land-based rescuers who worked with him to free the women from the pier.
“He did everything he could,” Jenkins said.
He said he and the other rescuers waded into the wind-pounded surf by the pier and discovered that the victims were still attached to the parasail, which was underwater and trying to drag them under as well.
Jenkins said one of the land-based rescuers, who arrived on the beach in a rescue truck, cut the lines free, allowing rescuers to carry the women ashore. Neither was conscious, he said.
The boat was owned by N.C. Watersports. Rube McMullan and his son Barrett McMullan, owners and operators of the company and the Ocean Isle Fishing Center where it is located, did not return phone calls Saturday. A woman who answered the phone at the fishing center Saturday afternoon said she thought parasailing had been suspended, but wasn’t sure.
The rough seas were the result of Tropical Storm Danny, said Ron Steve, meteorologist with the service’s Wilmington office. One witness described the wind preceding the tragedy as being as strong as that of a winter nor’easter.
Steve said he didn’t have wind readings from Ocean Isle Beach, but monitors in Southport and North Myrtle Beach registered gusts of 20 mph Friday afternoon. He said stronger winds could have occurred in a localized storm between the two monitors.
“When the wind gets over 20 mph, it makes a huge, huge difference,” said David Sage, co-owner of Myrtle Beach’s Ocean Watersports, which has been in business since 1981.
He said his parasail boats are ordered to halt operations when sustained winds get to 20 mph.
Sage said he pulled his parasailing boats out of action as storms approached the Grand Strand about 2 p.m. Friday, the same time that witnesses said the drama on Ocean Isle began.
The two women were on a trip with Woodcock’s aunt, Sybil Carpenter of Cary, N.C., and another friend, said Tyisha Woodcock, who was Cynthia Woodcock’s daughter-in-law.
Carpenter, who was in the boat at the time of the accident, told family members the water was so choppy that some passengers feared it might overturn, Tyisha Woodcock said.
“We’re trying to figure out why the owner of the boat would take them out” in those conditions, she said Saturday.
Tyisha Woodcock said she didn’t know if her mother-in-law had ever parasailed before.
“My mother-in-law isn’t necessarily a strong swimmer,” she said. “I wouldn’t say she’s very adventurous.”
She described her mother-in-law as an avid bird-watcher and gardener who was born and raised in Lenoir, where the funeral will be held sometime next week.
The Coast Guard does not regulate parasail businesses or any of the equipment associated with it, but Commander John Nadeau of the Marine Safety Unit of the Wilmington Coast Guard Station said he’s sure that Coast Guard inspectors at least looked at the rope when the boat was last inspected in March.
Nadeau said that at the time of the accident, the boat was being driven by a Coast Guard-licensed master and that there was one other crew member on board.