New inflatables come with high-flying risks – July 3, 2006

Inflatable towables and PWC often go hand in hand, but dealers that carry the newest type of inflatable on the market, so-called “kite tubes,” should be aware the water toys come with a certain amount of risk.
A recent statement from the Glen Canyon Recreation Area noted a surprising number of kite tube accidents over the Memorial Day weekend on Lake Powell, accidents that resulted in the tube’s passengers falling from heights that ranged from 10 to 40 feet. In May, a kite tube passenger in Texas died after sustaining critical neck injuries following a reported 15-foot fall.
Kite tubes are typically much larger than normal inflatables, and can rise above the surface of the water as the towing craft increases speed. Manufacturers of the flying tubes, which include SportsStuff’s Kite Tube and Sevylor’s Manta Ray, say passengers should not soar higher than 6-10 feet, and that there should be clear communication between the rider and driver.
It’s noted it’s the watercraft driver’s responsibility to control the speed, and thus the height the kite tube ultimately achieves. Sevylor said it takes 23 mph to “hover” against the wind, 28 mph to do so with the wind at your back. Videos on both companies Web sites, however, clearly show the tubes going higher at faster speeds, thrills that, despite the company’s frequent warnings, too many tube riders seem determined to duplicate.
Passengers have reported kite tubes can become quickly unstable in certain conditions at these faster speeds and heights, abruptly rising or twisting with gusts of wind, and potentially dropping riders from whatever height has been achieved.
In the first Powell accident, a 29-year-old male lost control of the tube and fell from a height of nearly 40 feet while being towed at approximately 35-40 mph. The victim suffered a broken neck, and had to be evacuated by helicopter to Grand Junction, Colo. According to passengers, two other members of the same party had been hurt the same day.
In the second major accident, a 14-year-old girl fell 10-15 feet from a kite tube and lost consciousness upon striking the water. This second victim also was taken by helicopter out of the canyon and to the same Colorado hospital.
These are not the first accidents to happen on Powell this year. Two other kite tube riders have been seriously injured, the first of which resulted in a punctured lung caused by broken ribs, the latter of which ended in injuries to the chest and back. The accidents prompted Mike Mayer, chief ranger for Glen Canyon, to send out a safety alert to almost 400 other parks across the nation warning them of the potential for injury should kite tube flyers lose control of the product.
SportsStuff Inc, has stated that the company worked closely with the Water Sports Industry Association when designing their kite tube, a model which won Sports Product of the Year award in 2006 from the Sporting Goods Manufacturer’s Association. According to company spokesman Jay Schneider, SportsStuff includes an instructional DVD with each tube, as well as numerous warnings and instructions, many of which are printed on the tube itself. One such warning seems especially pertinent — “never kite higher than you’re willing to fall.”
Currently there are no bans on kite tubes.

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