DETAILS EMERGE IN FATAL PARASAIL COLLISION AT SEVEN MILE BRIDGE

Screenshots captured from an onlooker’s video show captain John Callion in the process of freeing the victims from their parasail harnesses. CONTRIBUTED.

Details continue to emerge in reports investigating a parasailing accident that left one woman dead and her son and nephew with injuries on May 30.

According to FWC law enforcement’s 24-hour report released on the evening of May 31, 33-year-old Supraja Alaparthi was taking a three-seater parasail flight along with her 10-year-old son Sriakshith Alaparthi and 9-year-old nephew Vishant Sadda. A strong gust of wind “pegged” their parasail, a term used to describe when a parasail becomes controlled by the weather conditions instead of the towing vessel and begins to impede the safe operation of the towing vessel by becoming a sail.

With the parasail pegged, the boat’s captain intentionally cut the line tethering the three victims, who dropped to the water and were dragged by the freed parasail across the surface until it collided with the old Seven Mile Bridge.

Marathon captain John Callion was conducting a charter under the bridge when he saw the parasail flying with a storm on the horizon around 5:30 p.m. His trip soon turned into a rescue mission as he saw the line detach and the three victims dragged through the water all the way to the bridge.

“When I pulled up to the scene, I thought that we were just going to deal with these people that got beaten up on the drag,” said Callion, estimating that the victims were dragged between one and two miles in the water. “When I had to get to them, I had to drive around Pigeon Key, so I didn’t see them actually get in contact with the bridge.”

Callion arrived to find Supraja and Vishant unresponsive. Working with his passengers to cut the three victims free from their harnesses, he immediately made his way to Sunset Grille as his passengers began CPR on the unresponsive victims.

“I was considering leaving before the wind got bad,” Callion told Keys Weekly. “It didn’t take me five minutes to get up next to these people. … By the time I pulled up next to them, in probably less than three minutes we had everybody in the boat and we were on the way. One kid wasn’t breathing and my customer got him to breathe again.

“It was horrible, as bad as you can imagine. … Honestly, when I was pulling up I thought that we were going to pull them in the boat and pass them off to the parasail boat. I didn’t realize people were dying.”

Once on land, Supraja Alaparthi was pronounced dead at the scene. Her son suffered minor injuries, while Sadda was eventually transported to Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami for additional treatment. Sadda’s parents indicated to Callion on May 31 that Vishant is expected to make a full recovery.

Sources indicated to Keys Weekly that the parasail company involved in the incident was Marathon-based Lighthouse Parasail. When contacted for comment, co-owner Alex Winter confirmed his company’s involvement but otherwise declined to comment on the ongoing investigation, stating that this was a “time for grieving for the families.”

Highly praised – with good reason – for his rescue efforts, Callion said he felt it was “part of (his) duty being out there.”

“Yesterday was life-changing for me,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “My heart and prayers go out to the victims, I truly did all I could do. … Never take life for granted. Things can change in a second.”

“Our condolences are with the family and loved ones of those affected by Monday’s accident,” said Coast Guard Capt. Jason Ingram in a statement. “This was a tragedy for a family seeking to enjoy their visit to the Florida Keys. Our team, and our partners at Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, are investigating the accident to determine the causal factors and mitigate future casualties to make the waterways as safe as possible.”

Keys Weekly will update this story as it develops.

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Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.