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Kite-Tube Recall Follows Rash of Accidents

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block, reporting the end of a fad maybe before you've ever heard of it. Yesterday the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced a nationwide recall of a product called the Wego Kite Tube. When you ride on one you fly through the air while being towed by a speedboat.

Well this summer two people have died in kite tube accidents, and more than 30 have been injured. NPR's Adam Hochberg reports.

ADAM HOCHBERG reporting:

For people into extreme sports the Wego Kite Tube has become the newest way to seek thrills on the water. It's sort of a mix between an inner tube and a parasail, a ten-foot diameter inflatable yellow saucer with room for one rider to hang onto a set of straps.

(Soundbite of splashing water)

Mr. PETE RICHARDSON (Injured Kite Tubing Enthusiast): You've got your feet -your feet are in the stirrups. Your hands, you know, are holding on. You can see, there's nothing to hold you in at all.

HOCHBERG: Pete Richardson is a kite tubing enthusiast on Lake Gaston, North Carolina. Or at least he used to be until his last trip on the tube resulted in a ferocious wipeout. Now his $500.00 tube hangs quietly in the shallow water at Richardson's boathouse, while he nurses a series of injuries from an accident he doesn't even remember.

Mr. RICHARDSON: What I was told that had happened, was we had gone through a cove that a crosswind was blowing through, and it just took the kite up to about 30 feet, inverted me and I crashed. And I was knocked out; unconscious. And I found out that I had broken a scapula and bruised my lungs, my ribcage, my vertebrae, and my sternum.

HOCHBERG: Richardson is one of dozens of people who've had kite tube accidents since the product hit the market late last year. Government regulators say two people have been killed, one in Wisconsin, one in Texas, and at least 39 others have been injured. Utah businessman Blake Hanson broke a vertebrae kite tubing last month.

Mr. BLAKE HANSON (Injured Kite Tubing Enthusiast): It happened so fast. All of a sudden you're up, and then all of a sudden you're down. And there's no way to control it in the air, once you're in the air.

HOCHBERG: After his injury, Hanson's family started a campaign to have kite tubes taken off the market, an effort that proved successful when the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced the recall. Last month the family posted a warning about the tube on Internet bulletin boards, and since then Hanson's brother-in-law, Dave Young, has heard from people all over the country.

Mr. DAVE YOUNG (Relative, Injured Kite Tubing Enthusiast): I've talked to a father who for the last two days has watched his daughter lay in a hospital bed with a fracture, you know, of her vertebrae. I've talked to several people who've had femurs that have just been crushed, cracked ribs, people that are bleeding internally. You know, just all sorts of different injuries that have been very, very disturbing.

HOCHBERG: The kite tube's manufacturer, a Nebraska firm called Sportsstuff, wouldn't discuss the recall with NPR. But a statement on the company's web site says Sportsstuff agreed to the action out of an abundance of caution. The statement adds, though, the company does not concede kite tubes are defective or unreasonably dangerous, and that's an opinion shared by some retailers who sell them.

Mr. AL HARTLEY (Owner, Four Seasons Boats): This is the instructional video.

HOCHBERG: Al Hartley has sold more than 50 kite tubes at the boat shop he owns on Lake Gaston. In his showroom, he plays the manufacturer's DVD that demonstrates the product.

Mr. HARTLEY: Watch this girl. She flies it real stable; real smooth. See, that's perfect.

HOCHBERG: Among the kite tubes Hartley sold this season, was the one Pete Richardson got hurt on. Still, Hartley believes the tubes are no more dangerous than a lot of water sports equipment and he says most of the injuries, likely were caused by misuse.

Mr. HARTLEY: I'm absolutely positive they can be used safely. But apparently people are not willing to put the time in to learn how to operate them properly. Is that a reason to regulate them? I don't think so. I think people need to learn on their own.

HOCHBERG: Like all Wego dealers, Hartley is being asked to pull his remaining stock off the shelf, a request he says he'll comply with. The government is encouraging people who've bought a kite tube to contact Sportsstuff, the manufacturer, either to get a refund or to exchange it for one of the company's less perilous products. Adam Hochberg, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adam Hochberg
Based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Adam Hochberg reports on a broad range of issues in the Southeast. Since he joined NPR in 1995, Hochberg has traveled the region extensively, reporting on its changing economy, demographics, culture and politics. He also currently focuses on transportation. Hochberg covered the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, followed candidates in three Presidential elections and reported on more than a dozen hurricanes.
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