A Florida Keys boat captain was arrested Thursday on charges of manslaughter in connection with a deadly parasailing trip this year, officials said.
An arrest warrant charged the captain, Daniel Gavin Couch, 49, of failing to check the weather for the May 30 trip and then cutting the tow rope to his passengers’ parasail during high winds.
Supraja Alaparthi, 33, died and her 10-year-old son and 9-year-old cousin were injured. They were visiting from Illinois.
Couch was arrested Thursday by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on a warrant for one charge of manslaughter and five counts of violating commercial parasailing statutes, the commission said.
“There is no excuse for the negligence and disregard for public safety demonstrated in this case,” said FWC Major Alberto Maza, a regional commander in the agency’s law enforcement division.
Couch was held Thursday night in lieu of $100,000 bail, according to online prison records.
It was not immediately clear whether he had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf or whether he had been formally charged.
The FWC said Couch had not recently checked weather conditions before taking 12 passengers on the parasailing trip on May 30.
While Alaparthi and the children were in the air, strong winds prevented them from being winched back to the boat, and Couch cut the tow rope, the committee said.
They fell and were dragged through the water by the parasail before hitting a pillar on the Old Seven Mile Bridge, the warrant says.
The parasail was draped over the bridge, with Alaparthi, who was submerged, and the two children hung in their armor, according to the warrant. Good Samaritans came to their aid and cut them from the armor.
Couch drove to the area “but made no attempt to approach the victims or provide further assistance,” even as others went to help, an FWC investigator wrote in a probable cause statement while looking for the arrest warrant.
A lawyer for Alaparthi’s family, Ricky Patel, told NBC Miami on Thursday that the family is grateful for the support they have shown after the incident.
“It means a lot to them. They hope with this move today that we can get one step closer to making sure this doesn’t happen to a family again,” Patel told the station.
The bank had sounded an air horn to let passengers know to pull on a leash to activate a “chute wrangler”, which should stop and deflate a loose parasail, but it did not engage, says the warrant.
A crew member tried to catch the parasail with a boat hook, but the hook was pulled from his hands. He then went into the water to try to free the paratrooper, but the order said he couldn’t.
Couch tried to grab the parachute with his hands but failed, and the group was dragged on, the warrant says.
The chute wrangler was installed incorrectly, upside down, and it’s unknown if it would have worked as intended, the FWC researcher wrote.
The FWC investigator wrote in the order that Couch was negligent in not monitoring the weather and continuing to fly even as conditions worsened. Cutting the tow rope was called a “coarse and blatant decision” that cut through the group’s only means of safe return.