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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Teenagers survive parasail accident

Two teenage girls vacationing from Massachusetts must have a guardian angel watching over them.

Stephanie Cote and Nataliya Lozko escaped serious injury Monday in a fall from a parasail in Bradenton Beach Monday afternoon after the tow rope snapped and the parachute they were in drifted into an electrical line on Gulf Drive near the Beach House Restaurant.

Witnesses said the parachute exploded moments after it hit the wire at about 2:10 p.m.

The girls fell about 30 feet to the Gulf Drive pavement below, narrowly missing passing cars.

Both were air-flighted from Coquina Beach to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, but were released later that day with no serious injuries.

"I'd say they had a guardian angel watching over them," said Mike Dunn, vacationing in Bradenton Beach from Virginia.

Dunn witnessed the accident and credited an unknown paramedic vacationing from Canada with possibly preventing serious injury to the girls, or maybe even saving their lives.

"She was there right when they hit the road, got them stabilized, and knew exactly what to do for their injuries. She was a big help, and told the girls not to worry, that they were going to be OK," Dunn said. The woman, however, disappeared as soon as police and ambulances arrived.

"She was a lifesaver, a guardian angel," Dunn added.

"In fact, I'd say the girls had a guardian angel. They could have hit the power lines and been zapped."

Dunn said the girls hung in the parachute for a few seconds after it wrapped itself around the electrical line.

"Then there was this explosion and the girls fell out," he said. Two women had run into the road attempting to catch the girls before they fell, but were unsuccessful, Dunn added.

He said the response time from police and paramedics was incredible, with the first Bradenton Beach Police unit on the scene within a minute. An ambulance arrived within a few minutes.

The boat was from U-Fly Parasailing of Cortez owned by Kirk Hanne, who was in the boat at the time of the accident, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson said.

Coast Guard officers and officials of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission detained Hanne after the accident for questioning and seized the burned parachute for inspection.

Lt. Scott Muller of the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office in Tampa said he is conducting an investigation to determine if any safety rules were violated by U-Sail or its operators.

Muller said Hanne is not a licensed boat captain, but there was one on board the vessel at the time the tow rope broke. Depending upon the results of the investigation, Muller said civil fines could be imposed on Hanne and U-Sail.

The FWC is investigating the incident for any criminal action or negligence on the part of the operator, Gary Morse of the FWC in Lakeland said.

According to the Manatee County Clerk of Court's database, Hanne has a history of alcohol-related traffic offenses in Manatee County, and has a court case involving alcohol currently pending.

The parasailing industry is unregulated in Florida and operators need only a boat passenger vehicle license to take up to six passengers for parasailing, according to Muller.

There have been a number of parasailing accidents in Florida in recent years.

A vacationing woman and her daughter died off Ft. Myers two years ago when the parachute harness broke and they fell 250 feet into the water.

Three people parasailing in Clearwater Bay in October 1999 escaped serious injury when the towline snapped, sending them crashing to the ground.

Two people died off Bradenton Beach earlier this year when a wing support in the light aircraft they were flying broke and the men fell to their deaths.