Igal Tyszman and Shir FrenkelEXPAND
Igal Tyszman and Shir Frenkel
Courtesy of Jason Chalik

Royal Caribbean Knew Zipline Company Was Dangerous Long Before a Newlywed Was Tragically Killed

On her 59th birthday, September 3, 2015, Alyda Chimene departed the Port of Miami on Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the Seas and headed ashore for a ziplining excursion in Roatan, Honduras.

Chimene, who is from Austin, Texas, thought the tour would be safe because — as she would later state in a lawsuit — Royal Caribbean “guarantee[s] that the excursions are planned by 'insured partners who adhere to the highest safety standards in the industry.'"

But after harnessing up on the zipline and flying through the treetops, Chimene's crossed and raised legs crashed into an unpadded platform. The collision caused a gaping wound on her shin that left her bone, tendons, and muscles exposed. After she was helped onto the platform, Chimene "had to reach down and pull the hanging flaps of skin onto her legs to cover the exposed wounds," states a September 2016 federal lawsuit filed in Miami.

She underwent emergency surgery in Honduras and was then evacuated via air ambulance to a trauma hospital in Houston, where she had an additional ten operations over the course of a month, which left her with unseemly purplish scars running down her legs.

"I am maimed for life," Chimene told New Times. "I am still in pain."

Chimene was one of at least ten passengers who complained to Royal Caribbean about their Roatan ziplining trips before this past July 5, when 24-year-old Igal Tyszman was killed on that same excursion. Tyszman crashed into his new wife, 27-year-old Shir Frenkel, during their honeymoon, according to a lawsuit Frenkel filed this past November in a case that has garnered international attention.

Royal Caribbean's press representative, Owen Torres, said the company could not respond to inquiries regarding Tyszman's death, Chimene's horrific injuries, or the history of other incidents on that zipline excursion due to the pending litigation brought by Tyszman's widow. Extreme Caribe Zip Line Tour, where Tyszman died and Chimene was injured, did not respond to two emails seeking comment. A phone number on the company's website was not operational.

Though ziplining is generally safe and thousands of guests have enjoyed it around the world, significant problems have cropped up in Royal Caribbean's excursion in Roatan. To chronicle these issues, New Times reviewed emails to and from tour operators and the cruise line's legal department, guest injury statements, depositions from passengers, and statements submitted through a customer feedback portal. The problems echo those that allegedly led to Tyszman's death and Chimene's injuries: little or no communication between the starting and ending platforms, a lack of visibility, and a brake system that did not always work properly.

Here are some examples:

• In October 2014, Vicky Kehrer told Royal Caribbean she and her husband were unable to stop on the zipline and struck the platform at a high rate of speed. "A young man who was taking both of us down the zipline could not stop and we hit the side of the platform,” Kehrer wrote. “We think the rain was a factor in making it difficult to stop."

• On December 29, 2014, Brenda Lee Marty Jimenez told Royal Caribbean she and her daughter had suffered injuries when the brake failed on the zipline, causing her to fly into the stop.

• On August 6, 2015, Jesse McMillen and his family were injured on the zipline when the guides sent too many guests at once, allegedly without communicating. In his deposition to the court, McMillen said he, his wife, and his son "ended up plowing into the guide and three other people that were in front of us... and the next people came in three at a time and they ran into us."

In most cases, tour guides blamed the injuries on rider error. For instance, after a passenger named Karen Schnexnayder bruised the back of both legs when spinning as she tried to mount a platform, the tour company's general manager wrote that Schnexnayder had taken her hand off the brake even though she "was instructed... during the briefing and before starting the line" to keep the hand in place.

Chimene's legs after eleven operations, including skin and muscle grafts
Chimene's legs after eleven operations, including skin and muscle grafts
Via court filings

In one shocking incident on New Year's Day 2014, Shannon Laza, a 44-year-old from Texas, informed Royal Caribbean that 15 people had been trapped on the zipline. Laza said the guides failed to communicate with one another and continued sending people even after a young boy got stuck.

First, four kids and a guide were sent down the zipline together, Laza wrote in a statement. Though they never made it across, operators sent along Laza's mother, three daughters, and a guide. They all crashed into the first group and one another.

"The crash and being suspended in the air from the second highest zipline sent my 11-year-old into a panic where she was crying the entire time they were stuck," Laza wrote. "Still [there was] no communication from platform to platform and they sent two teens with a guide, and they crashed into the ten already stuck. At this point, the weight of the 13 had made the cables sag, and they were down in the trees. [Then] they sent two adults in tandem. The couple hit a palm tree, as the cable was sagging below the tree line, giving the woman a bloody lip, and as they continued past the palm tree, they crashed into the 13 suspended on the cable."

Finally, the guides stopped sending people. Thirty minutes later, operators freed the 15 trapped on the line. Laza said one of her daughter's ribs was so badly bruised she could hardly move the next day and skipped dinner.

Laza said Royal Caribbean's excursion manager blamed the issue on the fact a boy in the first group had gotten stuck on the line. "I explained to her that the problem was not the first group being stuck,” Laza wrote, “but the lack of communication from platform to platform and the fact that they kept sending people."

The same issue is alleged to have occurred this past July 5, when newlyweds Frenkel and Tyszman departed Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas for the Extreme Caribe Zip Line Tour in Roatan.

There was a torrential downpour that Thursday afternoon, but the excursion went on anyway, court records show. Frenkel went first. She got stuck somewhere along the zipline before tour guides sent her husband down the line. He crashed into her at a high speed. They were both transported to a hospital immediately, but Tyszman died that evening due to the impact. Frenkel suffered broken ribs, a fractured spleen, and a litany of other serious injuries, according to a lawsuit filed against Royal Caribbean in Miami federal court this past November 30.

Debi Chalik, Frenkel's attorney, says the couple was instructed by guides "not to touch the brakes" on the zipline because they might fail to reach the end. Chalik says they were also told they must hold themselves in a plank position with their face turned upward (despite the heavy rain) in order to maintain momentum on the line. Frenkel got stuck on the line and began falling backward, while her husband, who was looking up and had no idea he was approaching his wife, crashed into her.

"It's unbelievable to ignore that and to continue sending passengers to that excursion," said Chalik, adding that Frenkel "still has not healed emotionally or physically. She goes to therapy every day, psychiatric and physical. Her life has been destroyed; her husband is gone. They were on their honeymoon, for God's sake."

Frenkel is suing Royal Caribbean for $1 million, alleging the company was grossly negligent in continuing to advertise what was clearly a dangerous ziplining excursion to passengers.

Chimene, the Texan whose legs were severely injured in 2015, still grapples with the severity of those injuries every day. The operations required skin and muscle grafts, badly scarring her legs, which sometimes still swell. Chimene says she keeps several pillows bound together next to her bed in case she needs to elevate her legs. When she went to Disney World this past September, she wrapped her legs with Ace bandages so children wouldn't have to see the wounds.

Chimene says she sued to recoup her medical costs and to get Royal Caribbean to acknowledge the ziplining excursion was dangerous and then stop advertising it to guests. Though she settled the case March 16, 2018, for an undisclosed sum, the cruise line did not cease delivering guests to the Extreme Caribe Zip Line Tour in Roatan. Four months later, Igal Tyszman crashed into his wife there and died.

"When I heard about the accident this summer, I was absolutely devastated," Chimene says. “It's bad enough that I have to deal with this, but that a newlywed was killed is just beyond devastating."

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