Mom dies, daughter hurt in parasailing accident

Posted: November 25, 2011

MANY vacationers think of parasailing as the thrill of being carried aloft over picturesque beaches, a multicolored canopy fluttering behind.

But for WIP Radio late-night staffer Eytan Shander, who yesterday spent his Thanksgiving in his girlfriend's hospital room, parasailing will always conjure images of tragedy and sadness.

On Nov. 15, Shander's girlfriend of four years, Danielle Haese, 34, was critically injured in a parasailing accident in St. Thomas in which her mother, Bernice Kraftcheck, 60, was killed.

The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the accident. The Virgin Islands Daily News reported that wind gusts may have been a factor.

Haese sustained injuries to her left side and is unable to open her left eye. She was in a coma for five days, but is recovering at Capital Health Regional Medical Center, in Trenton, where she is breathing on her own, is responding to commands and is expected to start rehab today, Shander said.

"I'm thankful to be able to communicate with her, something that three days ago we were talking about may never happen," Shander, 32, told the Daily News by phone yesterday from the hospital. "You can't have miracles every day, but you have to be grateful when they come."

Haese and her mother had planned the trip for Kraftcheck's 60th birthday, Shander said. He described his girlfriend as adventurous and outgoing. The couple lives in Plymouth Meeting.

"I didn't think this was anything high-risk at all," said Shander, who has been spending eight to 10 hours a day at the hospital.

It has not been a good year for parasailing. There have been at least two other parasailing deaths, and the Coast Guard issued a safety alert in September reminding parasailing operators of precautionary measures, noting that most injuries and deaths are related to failure in the towline and to weather conditions.

Mark McCullough, head of the Parasail Safety Council, told USA Today that parasailing injuries have increased by about 15 percent this year.

Royal Caribbean Cruises, operator of the Celebrity Eclipse boat excursion on which the Nov. 15 accident happened, had advertised the parasailing trip as "an experience of a lifetime," a sport in which the passenger soars hundreds of feet in the air while being pulled by a boat.

In a statement yesterday, Michele Nadeem, Royal Caribbean vice president, said: "All parasailing shore excursions in the Caribbean have been cancelled indefinitely, pending the outcome of the investigation."

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