New Sport of Kite Tubing Suffers Blow After Major Product Recall

At the height of summer, the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced Thursday the recall of a type of kite tube, a large inflatable device that lets people ride behind a motorboat in a way that's similar to water-skiing.

The commission issued the recall after a three-week investigation into the behavior of the Wego kite tube in different weather conditions. The investigation was spurred by two deaths and several injuries this year from the relatively new extreme sport.

The danger might have something to do with the difficulty of controlling the kite tube once it is aloft, the commission said. Kite tubes are large, inflatable inner tubes that are designed to fly off the water and into the air when pulled behind a boat at high enough speeds.

The kite tubes that the CPSC investigated will be pulled from the market because the commission could not find a fix that would make them safe.

"In the case of kite tubes, the hazard is really in the unknown," said Julie Vallese, a spokesperson for the commission. "How it's going to respond in the environment, how it's going to respond in certain weather conditions. You can't fix that."

There are two companies that make kite tubes -- but only one, Wego, will be affected by the recall. A call to Wego was not immediately returned, but the company's Web site still features the kite tube prominently and mentions the recall only in small letters at the top of the page.

Serious Injuries Reported

The launch of CPSC's investigation came just two days after the Tulsa district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers banned the use of kite tubes on the lakes it manages, after seeing a rash of serious injuries around the country.

"They're just coming in right and left, fatalities and serious injuries," said Ross Adkins, the chief of public affairs in the Army Corps' Tulsa district. "We're just asking people if they bring them to deflate them and take them home and not use them."

Farther west at Glen Canyon National Park, which includes the popular Lake Powell, kite tubes have also been banned. The park spans portions of Arizona and Utah.

"We looked at kite tubing in general," said Kevin Schneider, the management assistant at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. "It was not something that we felt was safe."

Schneider said Glen Canyon's park rangers began seeing kite tubes for the first time this boating season.

Between April and June, there were four kite-tubing injuries that were serious enough for the victims to be rushed out of the park by helicopter. A 29-year-old man broke his neck, and a 14-year-old girl was knocked unconscious when she fell to the water.

Glen Canyon officials observed that the kite tubes seemed very difficult to control, according to Schneider. That can lead to the rider falling off from a high height and at a high speed.

"The trauma from striking the water can be deadly," said Schneider.

CPSC's analysis is similar: The agency said that kite-tubing injuries likely stem from the difficulty of controlling the device and its unpredictability in wind. Its investigation found that kite tubes can fly as high as 40 feet.

"We just felt that it was the responsible thing to do considering that it was in the high season for use," Vallese said.