Kite-tubing dangers face probe

Published: Saturday, June 24 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission opened preliminary investigations into kite tubes last week after park rangers banned the water toy at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

The commission received a safety alert from Glen Canyon two weeks ago regarding four serious kite tube-related injuries and they are assessing the accidents, as well as the tube's safety features. Scott Wolfson, spokesman for the commission, said the accidents at the park are not exclusive to the area.

"There are numerous incidents across the nation," he said.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Superintendent Kitty Roberts said the park's administrators banned the activity to ensure the safety of park visitors.

"Kite tubing has proven itself to be extremely dangerous," she said. "There are many other, far safer ways to enjoy Glen Canyon — from water skiing, to fishing, to exploring narrow side canyons."

In kite tubing, a speedboat tows a rider on the 10-foot-diameter tube, and the rider pulls back on a rope to glide from heights of 10 to 60 feet in the air. Kevin Schneider, management assistant at Glen Canyon, said controlling a kite tube is extremely challenging, and the slightest upset can cause the rider to fall violently into the water, resulting in severe injuries.

Last week, the Deseret Morning News reported two people were seriously hurt in separate kite-tubing accidents. In the first and most severe, a 29-year-old man from St. George fell about 40 feet to the water's surface June 2, while moving approximately 40 mph, and suffered a broken neck. The next day, a 14-year-old girl lost consciousness when she fell about 15 feet and struck the water.

Rangers also airlifted two other individuals in April and May for kite tube-related injuries that included a punctured lung, broken ribs, chest injuries and back injuries.

Park administrators evaluated the injuries and determined the only way to prevent future injuries is to ban the Wego Kite Tube, manufactured by SportsStuff Inc., altogether. The park's restriction also applies to any device that is towed by a boat and allows the rider to take flight, including the Manta, manufactured by Sevylor, parasailing and kite boarding.

Jay Schneider, spokesman for SportsStuff Inc., said he contacted Mike Mayer, chief ranger at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, after learning about the ban.

"The only thing that has been proven is that these items are being used incorrectly," he said. "It is the improper use that has driven the blanket ban of all flying towable items."

Jay Schneider also said SportsStuff is an active member of the Water Sports Industry Association's safety board.

"There are inherent risks with any water sport," he said. "But these risks are significantly reduced when the item is properly used under the recommended guidelines."

Erica Bush, director of customer services, said she has heard nothing but positive feedback from customers about the kite tube, and agreed proper adherence to the instructional DVD, which is included with each purchase, can prevent serious injury.

"We recommend riders, boat drivers and operators to watch and adhere to the instructions on the DVD," she said.

Kevin Schneider said park managers appreciated input from SportsStuff representatives but the prohibition will remain in effect.

"In light of all that has taken place, we decided the prohibitions are necessary for the safety of our guests," he said Thursday.

Mayer said he doubts the kite tubes were used improperly when the four serious injuries occurred.

"All victims were using the kite tube as directed when they suddenly lifted to dangerous heights, became unstable and plunged down to the water surface," he wrote in the safety alert he sent to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and nearly 400 other parks across the nation.


E-mail: jdana@desnews.com

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