Woman killed in parasail fall

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Celebrity Cruises terminated parasailing excursions in the Caribbean after an accident one mile south of Water Island on Tuesday killed a cruise ship passenger and seriously injured her daughter.

"All parasailing shore excursions in the Caribbean have been cancelled indefinitely, pending the outcome of the investigation," said Celebrity Cruises spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez.

Squalls and wind gusts Tuesday afternoon may have factored into the death of Bernice Kraftcheck, 60, and the serious injury of her daughter Danielle Haese, 34, who was hospitalized overnight at Schneider Hospital.

The women had purchased a parasailing shore-excursion conducted by Caribbean Watersports and Tours.

At least six territorial and federal agencies are investigating the fatality, but it was not clear Wednesday night what caused the women's fall.

A medical examiner pronounced Kraftcheck dead at the West Indian Co. dock Tuesday afternoon, said U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Ricardo Castrodad.

An autopsy on Kraftcheck had not been performed and a cause of death was unknown, according to Schneider Hospital Chief Executive Officer Alice Taylor.

Castrodad said the women hit the water at the same time.

A woman, who said she was "just a secretary" answered the phone at Caribbean Watersports and Tours Wednesday and confirmed the business had operated the parasailing trip aboard the 31-foot powerboat Turtle.

Two crew members operated the Turtle, which was carrying five passengers Tuesday afternoon, Castrodad said.

The secretary said the owner of the business was unavailable for comment Wednesday. She said the business is closing until further notice, and she said investigators had told her communication with the press is not allowed.

V.I. Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty said the agency's customer care team had been working to help Haese through a tragic time.

"The team is there to facilitate the need of any passenger that has had some type of accident," Nicholson-Doty said.

Kraftcheck and Haese travelled aboard the Celebrity Eclipse cruise ship, which left Miami on Nov. 12 for a seven-night trip to Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. Maarten, Martinez said.

Parasailing provides a birds-eye view to riders who wear a harness attached to a parachute and take off from a "flight deck" above the boat stern. A 600-foot towline drags riders aloft, rising up to 400 feet above the water, according to the Caribbean Watersports and Tours website.

The company's fleet of five parasail boats offered tandem riders, called "eagles," eight-to-10 minute rides for $79 per passenger.

Two boats, Holy Chute and Ocean Rider, came to the fallen parasailors' aid, Castrodad said, and the Coast Guard received a distress call at 4:31 p.m. after one of the boats' retrieved the victims from the sea.

Emergency responders met the boat at the WICO dock, where paramedics picked up the victims after a notification by the Coast Guard.

FBI agents responded when it was not clear whether the accident involved a crime, according FBI spokesman Harry Rodriguez.

The Coast Guard investigation could change the agency's involvement with parasailing safety, according to Castrodad.

"This is a safety investigation," to identify what went wrong and to prevent future events," he said.

The investigation also will consider whether negligence was a factor.

"If that comes out, appropriate actions would be taken," Castrodad said. "We're definitely not there yet."

The Coast Guard regulates commercial boating licensures and promotes best practices, but Castrodad said no rules apply to parasailing.

"It's like when you go scuba diving," he said. "We regulate the vessels that operate this type of commercial activity, but the scuba portion of it, we can only provide safety recommendations."

When asked how the cruise ship carrier's parasailing moratorium would effect business, Florida-Caribbean Cruise Ship Association president Michele Paige declined to comment.

Royal Caribbean Cruises owns Celebrity Cruises.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Government Relations vice president Michael Ronan also declined comment.

"I'm actually out of the country and am getting reports as we go," Ronan said.

- Contact reporter Michael Todd at 774-8772 ext. 304 or email mtodd@dailynews.vi.

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