Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What A Tragedy

Those of you living here in Mexico know how the Mexican papers love to display photos of gore, car accident victims and suicides. Those of you who don't just can't imagine how awful it is to turn the page in the paper and unexpectedly see a gruesome picture of somebody's body parts splayed all over the pavement after a car accident.

I had just such a shock a few days ago. I keep playing and replaying what happened over and over in my head. I share the story with you for two reasons: to try to get it out of my head and to point out to you the dangers of being a tourist in Mexico.*

Three robust USA tourist women were on holiday in Tulum. They decided they would like to go parasailing. Where you are pulled along by a boat. The people running this adventure would not let the three of them go up together due to their robustness. So the first one went up alone. Her turn over, her two friends got strapped in and went up together. Expecting a thrill ride but getting a terror ride instead.

Sometime after lifting off, the rope that was towing them broke. They were left on their own, high in the sky over the ocean. For some reason, they were not blown out to sea, which would have been immensely better for them, but instead were blown south along the coast. All the way to Akumal. I think it is about 15- 20 miles south of where they were in Tulum. (Jonna, Michelle or Heather, correct my distance here) At any rate, they were in the air for quite some time. Can you imagine their horror and the horror of their friend as she watched them disappear down the coast?

Sadly, their thrill ride came to an end when they crashed into the rocks and were dragged along. Hopefully they died instantly and did not suffer too much. The parasail kept going and must have lifted them off again with it. Their ride finally came to an end when the parasail got lodged on a balcony in Akumal and they crashed yet again. This time into a coconut tree and fell to the ground. Their fun filled day and lives over. Their crumbled, badly bruised bodies is what the newspaper decided to share with us. I almost cried looking at them. I tried not to imagine what their last few minutes were like but I keep playing it over and over in my mind.

The last I read the company had been shut down and were under investigation. I do know that they have been charged with something like manslaughter because they had not regularly replaced the pull rope as designated by law. Those things have a very short lifespan down here and need to be inspected for damage daily.**

We hear of these sorts of accidents all the time down here. Especially in Puerta Vallarta and Acapulco where parasailers routinely crash into the sides of hotels lining the beaches. And remember, Mexico has no liability laws so forget suing somebody because your loved one died a stupid and needless death. Just look at the boat that sunk in Cancun recently.

My advice: I wish I had some. You can't avoid everything or you will never experience anything new and possibly fun. Just be careful. If it doesn't look safe or if you have an edgy feeling, give it a pass and do something else.

* There are plenty of fun, safe things to do while a tourist here. Take a look at this post.

** Yesterday's paper reported that the driver of the boat and the guy who fastened them into the harnesses have been charged with negligent homicide. The harness guy is reported as "fleeing from justice" at the moment. The women were from South Dakota and 49 and 50 years old.


Anonymous said...

One correction: Akumal is North of Tulum.

One thing I was wondering is if the constant rain for a few weeks had clouded the operator's better judgment in taking them out in poor weather/sea conditions (as the harbor master had declared the sea unfit for any boating activities)...possible financial desperation? Who knows what they were thinking. Tragic, for sure.

For the record, parasailing accidents happen all over the world, not just Mexico. Google it. I wouldn't do it anywhere.

I do wish they wouldn't post those graphic photos in the newspapers; I think it has something to do with this culture's fatalistic attitude and acceptance of death as just another part of life. It sure is hard to deal with coming from my background, however.

Jonna said...

17 miles by highway from Akumal to Tulum, I've no idea what it is on the beach or a straight line over water.

They crashed into the house of a friend of ours. She is really traumatized as you can imagine, she was home. Horrible.

My advice, forget parasailing. It's a stupid ride anyway since there is no skill and no control, you are just dragged along by a boat and your life is dependent on the ride's equipment and the driver's good sense. Not a bet I'd take.

CancunCanuck said...

A terrible tragedy indeed. The papers were disgusting with their printing of the photo, I just couldn't believe it when I saw it.

My understanding is that the captain of the boat (25 year old kid) has fled and cannot be found, but there is a charge of negligent homicide waiting for him. The story I have heard is that while they were parasailing, the wind shifted. The captain started to turn the boat to adjust for the new wind position and the engine died. A gust caught the sail and the cords tore. I have heard (grapevine) that the harness man actually grabbed the lines and tried to hold on to them, was dragged into the ocean and lost his hold. The captain drove away leaving him in the water. Coward!

So, yes, be aware of the tour providers you are using, ask for references, check equipment yourself if you can. Read reviews of tours before coming down and ask ask ask questions! If you have a doubt about an operator, don't go on the tour, there are plenty of reputable and decent companies here that will provide you with an enjoyable and safe trip. (And yes, Selvatica is one of them, I was very impressed with their dedication to safety).

Thanks for the post Wayne.

K.W. Michigan said...

Sad news .. about the only dangerous thing I do in Cancun is DRIVE a car!
I know about trying to sue someone in Cancun. Doesn't work .. My girlfriend has had an ongoing lawsuit,(against a major company) which she recently dropped.

Anonymous said...

I'm always torn between being a non-adventurous wous/watch out for your butt.

More often than not, I find myself calculating odds ..(to the chagrin of my companion...), and, sure ...maybe I'll do it.

Parasailing has never overcome the odds; too many unpredictable outcomes....

But just put a Sol con limon in front of me, with a view of the Caribbean as a backdrop, and I'll take the plunge (dang, what a gutsy man-man I am...)



Anonymous said...

Very frightening! I remember a long time ago talking to a couple on Isla who had been staying in Cancun the year before and witnessed a parasailer crash into a hotel because the rope broke. My daughter almost crashed into trees in PV because she did not hear the whistle to lower the rope. That was very scary for both of us.

Life's a Beach! said...

That's absolutely horrid. We, as a rule, don't do anything dangerous in Mexico. Last year on a company trip to Cabo we were semi-forced into an extreme zip-lining adventure. That'll be my first and last experience like that in Mexico. We made it, but there were aspects about the operation that wouldn't have 'flown' in the U.S. I'm so sorry for those women and their families.

Steve Cotton said...

This really is a terrible result. I love ziplining and parasailing. But, I must admit that I have looked askance at some of the equipment. I will now look at it far more carefully.

Islagringo said...

Heather: who knows but financial incentive probably had a lot to do with it. And thanks for the correction. Akumal is north of Tulum!

jonna: how terrible for your friend. We were sure hoping it wasn't yours! I would never parasail. I went on a legal retreat once to PV and one of the girls from our office went parasailing. She was tiny anyway and they could not get her down! Several guys had to stand on each other's shoulder and grab for her feet to pull her down.

CC: you are so right about there being credible, safe operators here. Just keep your eyes and instincts open. And thanks for the extra details. That guy who got pulled into the water was almost a hero. The driver deserves whatever he gets.

kw: I have driven my car all over Mexico and to me, without a doubt, the most dangerous city to drive in is Cancun.

Robert: sometimes just maintaining your balance on a bar stool can be dangerous!

Jackie: always a good idea to just keep your feet and butt on the ground!

lifes a beach: I read about that on your blog. Didn't look like a lot of fun to me!

steve: I think that most equipment down here for things like that are not made for robust people. Even the chairs will collapse under you if you are not careful. My B has found that out the hard way!

My Way said...

I haven't been able to get that picture out of my head either Wayne. If there was a story and no pic I probably would have forgotten about it by now. But that picture smoke a million words. None of them good. :(

Daniel said...

So terrible! I have been on several parasailing trips, but never had any bad experiences..
Will be doublechecking stuff next time..

American Mommy in Mexico said...

How simply awful. I have never parsailed and never really planned to ... so this story just finalized the decision - no way.

Gary Denness said...

I get faced by walls with papers pinned up showing decapitations, mutilations and car wrecks every day on my way to work in DF. It's very different as to how the UK press deals with graphic images.....they don't.

There's two sides to the coin. There is an argument to be made for showing everything in every gruesome detail. This is d'ya like it. And I'll bet that the photos will have more of an impact on people thinking of taking part in a potentially dangerous sport today than words alone would ever have. They'll think harder.

The issue I have with the Mexican press (and others around the world) is that they go over the top and somehow manage to 'glorify' or otherwise twist a sad story solely for the purpose of selling a few more papers, not for the purpose of journalism. They do of course have a responsibility to both, but seem to completely fail to find the balance.

couzin frank said...

Sad Story! I'll just watch from my beach chair Thank you!