Captain agrees to plead guilty to seaman’s manslaughter in 2011 parasailing death

The captain of a powerboat that was involved in a fatal parasailing accident in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2011 pleaded guilty to seaman’s manslaughter. The company that owned the vessel pleaded no contest.

Kyle Coleman, 33, was operating the 31-foot powerboat Turtle during a parasailing expedition near Charlotte Amalie Harbor when the accident occurred Nov. 15, 2011. The pleas, entered in June of this year, acknowledge that criminal negligence caused the accident that killed Bernice G. Kraftcheck, 60, and injured her daughter, Danielle Haese, 34.

According to a Coast Guard report, the two women were hoisted into the air for a parasail ride as wind conditions were deteriorating. Strong winds and a weak towline caused the line to break, resulting in the parasail separating from the vessel and causing the two women to fall into the water. The wind then propelled the parasail, with the women still attached, at a very high rate of speed, causing the death of Kraftcheck and serious injuries to Haese.

“In this case, both the company and the captain failed to observe wind conditions, safely maintain all equipment and adequately prepare for emergencies,” said Ronald W. Sharpe, U.S. Attorney for the District of the Virgin Islands. “We hope that the victim’s families will take some comfort from the fact that both the company and captain will be held responsible for their criminal negligence.”

Coleman will be sentenced under the Seaman’s Manslaughter Statute and will face a maximum penalty of one-year incarceration and a $5,000 fine, plus restitution to the victims. Caribbean Watersports & Tours, the owner of the vessel, faces a maximum penalty of five years of probation and $250,000 restitution to the victims. Sentencing is set for Sept. 12.

A spokeswoman for Caribbean Watersports & Tours reported that the company will permanently close, irrespective of the court’s sentencing decision. Coleman could not be reached for comment.

In 2009, following a parasailing accident that killed two people, the Coast Guard issued a Marine Safety Alert to the industry, reminding operators “to be vigilant in their observations of current and forecasted weather and sea conditions with particular attention paid to wind speed. Approaching weather patterns or squall lines present significant hazards to these operations due to sudden and dramatic shifts in wind direction, gusty winds or even lightning.”

The Coast Guard has stated that captains should follow the operating standards published by the Professional Association of Parasail Operators (PAPO). The San Diego-based safety organization could not be reached for comment on the Turtle case.  

By Professional Mariner Staff