PANAMA CITY BEACH — In the company’s first public statement since two teenage girls were critically injured in a parasailing crash in Panama City Beach, Aquatic Adventures extended their sympathy to the victims and their families Wednesday, and said the incident was “tragic.”
“Our heartfelt sympathies go out to the families of the injured girls and we all pray for their speedy recovery,” wrote Jeff Jones, owner of Aquatic Adventures. “While we adhere to best practices to minimize the risks associated with watersport activities, sudden weather conditions can and do occur.”
Jones noted that an investigation into the incident by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is ongoing, and that Aquatic Adventures is “unable to comment further at this time.”
Wednesday, Sidney Renea Good and Alexis Fairchild, 17-year-old girls from Roanoke, Ind., still were in critical condition at Bay Medical Center Sacred Heart Health System, according to a statement released by their families. They each suffered head trauma and severe lacerations in the incident. Fairchild has undergone spinal surgery. Both girls are communicating with their families and hospital staffers through small movements, including hand gestures.
“Both girls sustained head trauma as well as multiple severe lacerations,” according to the statement. “Alexis has severe back injuries and Sidney has neck trauma. However, we are fortunately seeing some positive signs from both Sidney and Alexis. Sidney has been responsive to caregivers and has been able to use small movements to communicate including a thumbs up for her parents. Alexis had surgery (Wednesday) on her spine and has also been responsive including a small wave at her parents when she returned from surgery. Our families are incredibly touched by all the support we've received from friends at home and from many people we haven't met before who are praying for our girls. While the situation is still critical we are encouraged by these very small signs of progress. We have heard from so many generous people who have offered to help and we are working to establish a fund for the medical care of both Sidney and Alexis. We will have more information on that to come. Thank you again to all who are thinking of and praying for our girls. Your prayers are working!”
The girls were critically injured Monday after their parasailing line detached. Strong winds carried the girls’ parachute to shore, where they struck the high-rise condominium complex The Commodore. Witnesses said the girls were then blown into a power line before striking a vehicle in The Commodore parking lot and landing on the pavement.
The National Weather Service was unable to provide data on shoreline wind conditions during the parasailing crash, but several witnesses said as the storm approached, wind gusts sent beach chairs and umbrellas tumbling across the sand. Meanwhile, Good and Fairchild were still parasailing.
The captain of the Aquatic Adventures parasailing boat, 30-year-old Tyler Churchwell, has not commented on the incident.
PANAMA CITY BEACH — A pair of Indiana teenagers were in critical condition after a parasailing crash Monday afternoon, officials said.
Witnesses said strong winds from a passing storm tossed two 17-year-old women, Sidney Renea Good and Alexis Fairchild, both of Roanoke, Ind., after a line connecting them to a boat detached.
“We need all the prayers for these girls that we can get,” Eric Good, Sidney’s father, said Tuesday morning.
Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating the incident. In a news release the agency said a strong storm initiated problems that led to the crash.
“These winds kept the chute aloft and several attempts to winch the riders back onto the vessel failed,” the news release states. “The anchor was set to keep the boat from being pulled onto shore. The towline detached and the riders were helpless to control the chute.”
The captain of the boat, the “Why Knot,” was 30-year-old Tyler Churchwell for Aquatic Adventures. He declined to comment for this story.
Several witnesses said the victims were in a tandem harness under a parachute that detached from a boat.
Cole Adair and Michael Kennedy, on vacation from Georgia, were bleeding after they jumped a fence to get to the victims, who smashed into a condominium and then were carried into a power line near Thomas Drive around 4 p.m. before crashing into several vehicles in the parking lot, where they came to rest.
The impact caved in the roof and front windshield of an SUV in the parking lot.
“It was gruesome,” Kennedy said.
Good and Fairchild were rushed to the hospital after Monday’s incident. Others who came to their aid in the parking lot said both were breathing, but only one was conscious at the time.
Kennedy and Adair said both victims went limp after crashing into the side of The Commodore Condominiums and stayed that way for several seconds before they reached the ground.
“It seemed like a long time,” Adair said.
Amy Barron, of Alabama, watched helplessly from the RV park across Thomas Drive. She said she saw the women hit either a power line or a utility pole before they crashed in the parking lot.
“We knew they were going to hit, but there was nothing we could do about it,” Barron said.
Parker Dixon, of Georgia, said he saw an electrical explosion when the victims made contact with the power line or pole.
Investigators with the Bay County Sheriff's Office, the U.S. Coast Guard and Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Commission were on scene interviewing witnesses as crowds gathered to watch from the balconies of nearby rental units. Karen Parker said investigators are looking into the possibility of an equipment failure, but the investigation “might take a while.”
Friends and family turned to Twitter and Facebook to offer prayers and support under the tag #prayforsidneyandalexis. Family members said on Facebook that both girls were undergoing a series of surgeries at a local hospital for their injuries.
An individual answering the phone at Aquatic Adventures, the parasailing company that owned the boat, said the company would have no comment.
In May of this year the Florida Legislature failed to pass a bill that would have regulated the parasailing industry. James Vaught, a managing partner of Aquatic Adventures in Panama City Beach, spoke to the News Herald in April about his opposition to the bill.
“It’s a lot of bad information,” Vaught said of the bill. “We’re just not being looked at correctly… we’re being looked at like a bunch of rogue pirates.”
Aquatic Adventures controls the largest parasail fleet in the U.S., with 11 boats operating out of three area marinas and 60 beach locations, Vaught said then.
The bill would have prevented any parasail apparatus from operating within 1,800 feet of the shore and required boat operators to have a radio on board to monitor weather conditions and would prohibit parasailing during sustained winds of more than 20 mph, in rainy conditions and in times of poor visibility.
Vaught said he believes it should be up to industry leaders to regulate themselves, and spoke in support of a set of international safety standards for parasailing under development by the Water Sports Industry Association (WSIA) in Orlando.
“We’ve started creating our own standards,” Vaught said. “We’ve got a good plan going.”
He added that his company has been operating under safe practices for 12 years.
“We’re in parasailing because we love the sport and we want to do it right,” he said. “We want to run the industry correctly and we want to save the industry.”
S. Brady Calhoun and Valerie Garmin contributed to this report.