MANATEE -- A South Carolina tourist was aloft on a parasail about a mile off Longboat Key Monday evening when the boat pulling him suddenly lost power.
As the man dropped to the water with the parachute intact, witnesses say, he waved to his family as he hit the water.
But David Sieradzki didn’t start swimming toward the boat. The Fun N Sun Parasailing’s crew quickly pulled him into the boat, but he was unconscious and unresponsive.
Sieradzki, 31, never regained consciousness, and soon was pronounced dead, said Petty Officer Jon-Paul Rios of the U.S. Coast Guard.
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What caused Sieradzki’s death was still a mystery Tuesday, and both the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Coast Guard are conducting separate investigations of the incident. But everything indicates that the crew aboard the boat, Almost Heaven, and the parasail worked exactly as they should have.
“What happened is the out-drive malfunctioned,” said Gary Morse, spokesman with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which overseas marine activities in the state. “The propeller stopped turning. This is a commonplace problem with out-drives. The parachute than takes the guy into the water.”
Officials with Fun N Sun Parasail confirmed Tuesday there was a mechanical malfunction that caused the boat to stop moving forward at the speed necessary to keep Sieradzki aloft.
“There was an accident and it was tragic,” manager Louis Mandel said Tuesday. “But there was no operator error. The captains and the mates did everything they were supposed to do.”
Sieradzki was parasailing about 5:30 p.m. Monday when the motor on the 28-foot Almost Heaven boat failed.
Perhaps due to his size -- he weighed about 300 pounds, according to officials -- Sieradzki had gone up for the sail ride alone, Morse said.
“He was a very large man,” Morse said.
Details on how high he was or how fast he dropped to the water were not released Tuesday.
Sieradzki apparently waved to his four family members in the boat when he first hit the water.
“I confirmed with two separate parties that Mr. Sieradzki waved to the boat when he was in the water,” Morse said.
The crew of the Almost Heaven administered CPR to Sieradzki after he was pulled into the boat, as did the Coast Guard crew, and soon after, Manatee County emergency medical services, officials said.
On Tuesday, as Sieradzki’s stunned family members, including his wife, Stephanie, headed back to South Carolina, the Manatee County Medical Examiner was conducting an autopsy on Sieradzki. It is not known when the results will be made public.
Mandel said the U.S. Coast Guard has confiscated the Almost Heaven to run a thorough inspection.
“It is not an everyday thing, but boats do quit on occasion and that’s where the parachute is designed to take the parasailer into the water on what is essentially a parachute ride,” Mandel said. “This is what happened Monday.”
Fun N Sun Parasail does not take customers above 500 feet, as required by state law, Mandel said.
Mandel talked to the captain of the boat briefly, but said the captain was too distraught to be interviewed.
“What the captain related to me is that there was no water in the parasailer’s lungs when they got him out of the water and that he did feel a pulse,” Mandel said. “The parasailer was 300 pounds. But he floated down. He did not collapse into the water.”
Fun N Sun has had its operation in Bradenton Beach for only four months, but manager Bill Diggins has been in the business for 10 years.
He said they have never had a fatality in that time.
“At this time, we are not thinking about our business,” Diggins said. “Our hearts and condolences go out to the Sieradzki family.”
Bud Hazel, Sieradzki’s father-in-law, told the Tampa Tribune on Tuesday that his daughter, Stephanie, called him on the phone “hysterical” after the tragedy.
“Dave went, he got up in air and then the boat engine died, and Dave came down,” Hazel said. “And they had to pull him into the boat. By the time he got into the boat, he was dead. They tried 20 to 30 minutes to revive him, but he was gone.”
According to Hazel, Sieradzki was a “fun-loving guy. He was jolly. Everybody liked him. He was an all-around nice guy, super guy. A good Christian guy.”
Sieradzki worked in the IT department at a company near Fountain Inn, S.C., Hazel said. He liked to hunt for deer and wild turkey and go fishing, mostly fresh water.
The couple had been married for two years and had no children, he told the Tribune.
David and Stephanie Sieradzki, along with his father, Vic, mother Cindy and sister Ashley, had gone to Florida on Saturday, Hazel said.
The Coast Guard and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will file reports on the death.
This was the second fatal parasailing accident in the past year in the Tampa Bay area.
Alejandra White, 28, died in Clearwater after her line broke while parasailing in September.
The White case led to a bill in the Florida Legislature that would have given the state authority over the commercial parasailing industry.
The bill did not pass.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.