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Captain pleads guilty in 2009 parasailing death

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By Rachel Johnson, Staff Writer

RALIEGH—Thomas Povazan, 45, of West Mifflin, Penn., pled guilty in federal court on Wednesday, Nov. 14 to a violation of the Seaman’s Manslaughter Act, Title 18, United States Code, Section 1115.

Povazan was a licensed mariner, working as the captain of the Tied High in connection with a parasailing business. According to information presented in open court, two women died as a result of his negligence.

On Aug. 28, 2009 around 1 p.m., Povazan and a deckhand and 12 paying passengers including four children departed Ocean Isle Beach for a parasailing activity.

According to details of the investigation revealed in the trial, at the time the vessel departed, the weather was rapidly deteriorating due to the proximity of an approaching tropical storm.

The National Weather Service issued a small craft advisory on Aug. 27 that lasted through Aug. 29. At 1:01 p.m. on Aug. 28, 2009, a special weather statement was released by the National Weather Service declaring wind gusts were expected to be up to 30 mph and heavy rains were expected.

“Povazan, however, did not check the weather prior to departing the dock nor did he have his VHF Radio on to monitor the weather,” states a release from the U.S. Department of Justice. “At approximately 1:40 p.m., Povazan directed the deckhand to use a parachute labeled for maximum wind speeds of 12 mph. The deckhand placed the two victims into the parasailing equipment and pushed them off the vessel.

“Povazan subsequently realized that the winds were too strong and attempted to recover the towline. At approximately 1:50 p.m., the towline broke and the victims fell to the ocean surface. The wind then caught the parasail, dragging the victims violently through the water away from the vessel.”

Next Povazan brought the boat next to the parasail and pulled slightly ahead of it and ordered the deckhand to jump from the boat in an attempt to deflate the parasail. The attempt was unsuccessful and the deckhand was left in the water while Povazan pulled the boat directly into the path of the women.

“The victims were still being dragged by the parasail through the ocean, struck the stern of the boat and back into the ocean. The victims continued to be dragged trough the water,” states the release.

Povazan returned for the deckhand and chased the parasail again. He again ordered the deckhand to jump from the boat. The deckhand successfully deflated the parasail. The Tied High with 10 passengers and Povazan aboard drifted toward the Ocean Isle Beach pier and beached. The deckhand was in the water with both victims.

The victims were pulled from the water and declared deceased on the scene. The medical examiner reported that both victims sustained blunt force trauma to the head and body.

“We hope that the families of the deceased victims will take comfort from this prosecution, knowing that Mr. Povazan will be held responsible for his criminally negligent conduct,” said United States Attorney Thomas G. Walker.

The marine casualty investigation was conducted by the United States Coast Guard—5th District and Coast Guard Sector North Carolina. The criminal investigation of this case was conducted by the United States Coast Guard Investigative Service. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Banumathi Rangarajan and Special Assistant United States Attorney and Staff Attorney Coast Guard 5th District Lt. Elizabeth Oliveira.

“Parasail operators are entrusted with the safety of their innocent passengers, and this case serves to highlight the consequences of violating that trust by failing to appropriately consider risks, prepare for emergencies and exercise due care,” said Rear Adm. Steven Ratti, Commander of the Coast Guard’s 5th District.