The perils of parasailing

The perils of parasailing
The Star Online's intrepid reporter takes to the skies for the first time in a parasail.

PETALING JAYA - Following the recent death of Saudi tourist Aldakhilallah Eman Mohamed last week while parasailing, The Star Online decided to go on the ground to find out safety measures undertaken by local water sports operators.

Most water sports operators at a popular west coast holiday destination have stopped parasailing activities due to safety concerns, although favourites such as jet-skis and banana boats remain widely available.

It took some beach-hopping to finally find one who imposed an initial charge of RM100 (S$39)per parasailer.

"There is no licence or specific monitoring body for these activities. In Singapore, however, there are licences for those operating kayaks or jet skis," he said when asked if any inspections were carried out by the authorities.

Even "big, big men can fly up", said his beach boy assistant when quizzed on whether parasailers had to observe a weight limit.

"We won't let you fall on the beach, and you'll only be dipped into shallow waters at waist level," said the operator, citing Aldakhilallah's death as reason for extra caution.

Asked why a high-speed jet ski was used to pull the parachute instead of the usual speedboat, the beach boy explained that parasailers were more likely to fall when a slower watercraft is used.

To ensure wind conditions were safe, the operator checked on its strength and direction by observing how a staked flag rippled in the breeze.

Our volunteer, a first-time parasailer, was provided with a safety vest, a harness and brief instructions on what to do when airborne, but no attempts were made to ascertain if she was physically fit to fly.

After getting fitted, she was set for her ride, although her spectacles had to be removed for safety reasons.

No alternative was offered when she voiced an inability to see their signals from a distance, only a reminder that, "if you're tilting left, just tug on the right strap."

The take-off was smooth and she was brought around in a circle before the jet ski slowed down in deeper waters.

Without warning, the wind suddenly picked up and whipped the waves into a frenzy, causing the jet ski pulling the parasail to capsize.

Our parasailer was still harnessed to the jet ski, but the operator had fallen into the water and was nowhere to be seen!

When approached, the resort's staff did not know to operate jet skis and were unable to offer their assistance as another boat was caught in low tide.

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