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Man sues boat captain after rogue parasail kills wife

Nov 30, 2023Nov 30, 2023

Srinivasrao Alaparthi watched a parasail lift his 33-year-old wife, their 10-year-old son and younger nephew above the water on Memorial Day 2022, even as the skies in the Florida Keys darkened and the wind picked up. Minutes later, the boat's captain cut the towline connecting the parasail to the boat, and Alaparthi watched his wife and the two boys plunge into the water.

And then, for several minutes, he looked on helplessly and in horror as the wind propelled the parasail, dragging his family through the water for two miles — until they slammed into the concrete pillar of a bridge. Supraja Alaparthi was killed. The couple's son and nephew were both injured.

"It is terrifying," Srinivasrao Alaparthi told reporters Thursday, recalling the experience.

Now, Alaparthi is suing the parasailing boat's captain, his first mate and the marina out of which they operated, alleging negligence and wrongful death. In a 68-page lawsuit filed this week in Monroe County Circuit Court, Alaparthi alleges the boat's crew should have done any number of things that would have prevented his family's vacation in paradise from turning into a tragedy. Instead, they failed to check the weather forecast, which would have shown an incoming storm, resorted to cutting the towline before trying to regain control of the rogue parachute and didn't radio the U.S. Coast Guard for help as the independent chute dragged Alaparthi's wife to her death.

"I can't help but think that if the people we trusted from the parasailing company and Captain Pip's Marina had done their jobs, my wife would still be with us today," Alaparthi told reporters Thursday. "We trusted these companies, but they let us down in the worst possible way."

The captain, Daniel Couch, his first mate and Captain Pip's Marina and Hideaway didn't respond Thursday to requests for comment from The Post.

In September, Couch, 50, was charged with manslaughter and multiple boating violations. He's pleaded not guilty. The public defender for Monroe County, who is representing Couch, did not respond to a request for comment.

Woman killed, two children injured in parasailing crash in Florida Keys

Alaparthi's lawyer, Ricky Patel, said the family had decided to celebrate their son's 10th birthday with a trip from their Chicago-area home to the Florida Keys. While on vacation, they stumbled across brochures for parasailing, researched a few outfits and settled on Lighthouse Parasail, which operated out of Captain Pip's Marina in Marathon, Fla.

When they arrived at the marina to book the trip, the Alaparthis raised concerns about the weather but were assured it was fine, Patel said. Alaparthi's extended family reported to Lighthouse Parasail; Couch and his first mate loaded 12 passengers, including Alaparthi and his extended family, aboard their boat, the Airborne, an investigator with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wrote in a sworn affidavit. Around 4:30 p.m., the group left the dock at the marina, driving for about a half-hour to get to their parasailing location north of the Seven Mile Bridge.

Once there, Couch and his mate sent up the first three people into the parasail, drove them around for about 10 minutes and used the winch to reel them back down to the boat, the affidavit states. Three others took their place: Supraja Alaparthi with her son and nephew on either side. With the trio strapped in and standing by at the back of the boat, the crew let out the winch, allowing the parasail to lift them behind the boat, a family video shows.

"Bye!" Alaparthi's son shouted to those remaining on the boat, waving and flashing a smile. "I’ll see you tomorrow!"

"Have fun!" a family member yelled back.

Another clip captured a later part of the ride. It shows that the parasail wafted in the wind as the winch reeled it in. One of the crew members, who's off camera, cursed repeatedly as dark clouds formed, the wind howled and the winch struggled.

"This isn't a good sign," the crew member said, adding that he feared the parasail might drag the boat into the bridge, according to the video.

Investigators with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said in their report that Couch lost control of the parasail with some 150 feet of line still extended and "immediately" cut the tow line with a pocket knife.

The three passengers plunged from "an unknown height" as a result, the affidavit states. Untethered from the boat and propelled by the wind, the parasail itself stayed aloft and soared south, dragging its three occupants in and out of the water for two miles, according to the affidavit.

Then, it hit the Old Seven Mile Bridge, a decommissioned span that serves as a pedestrian walkway and fishing pier, it states.

Charter fishing guide John Callion had been watching, realized something was wrong and raced over to help. The first to arrive at the crash site, he cut all three occupants from the parasail, according to the affidavit. Two passengers on Callion's boat performed CPR on the boys as Callion drove to a nearby restaurant, transferring all three to emergency crews once he arrived.

Alaparthi died at the scene, Monroe County Sheriff Sgt. Deborah Johnson said in a report, and her nephew was unconscious and "barely breathing." Although severe weather delayed a helicopter, it eventually flew the boy to a hospital in Miami.

Her son was treated for minor injuries at a hospital in Marathon, the commission investigator wrote in the affidavit.

On Thursday, Srinivasrao Alaparthi said that the boys are still healing physically while "working through the emotional trauma."

"We are trying [our] best to focus on the happy memories we shared with my wife and keep her memories alive," he told reporters.

Alaparthi's lawyer told The Post that his client hopes the suit prods customers to make sure parasailing companies have adequate safety measures in place before they get strapped in. Alaparthi also wants it to serve as a warning to those companies: if they don't do everything they can to keep their customers safe, they’ll "face serious consequences."

"Our goal," he said, "is to ensure that no other family goes through what we are dealing [with] today."