Teen survives skydive after parachute mishap

OKLAHOMA CITY (KOKH) Three days after a skydive jump nearly killed her, 16-year-old Makenzie Wethington is in good condition and transferring out of the ICU at OU Medical Center.

The teen's parachute was supposed to deploy automatically, but came out crooked and Makenzie hit the ground hard and fast.

The 911 calls from the accident Saturday are frantic.

Dispatch: "Is she OK?"

Caller: "No she's not, she's on the ground moaning."

Makenzie Wethington and her dad Joe Wethington made the trip from Texas to Oklahoma for a day of adventure.
"That's something she'd always wanted to do was skydive so I told her I would take her," Joe said.

They went through a morning of training and during his dive, Joe made it safely to the ground. But when it was time for Makenzie to jump, things began to go very wrong. Joe watched it all from the ground.

"Half of the canopy did not extend. Only half the canopy came out and she was rocking this way and then she went into a spiral. She spiraled all the way down," Joe said, wiping back tears as he addressed reporters from the medical center in Oklahoma City.

Makenzie fractured her liver, broke her pelvis, broke her lower spine, shoulder blade, tooth and several ribs. But doctors say she made a miraculous recovery in a matter of days.

"When I first saw her in the emergency department I would have predicted she was not going to survive all this," said Dr. Jeffrey Bender, the trauma surgeon who cared for Makenzie.

Dr. Bender says her injuries were consistent with a patient who has been hit in a 40-50 mph car crash, though he admits that's not necessarily how fast she was falling.

Most "drop zones" for skydivers in Texas require jumpers to be 18 years old. That's why many people travel to Oklahoma. In the Sooner State divers can be 16 with parent permission.

"The result is I do get my share of phone calls from Texas," said Pegasus Air Sport owner Bob Swainson.

Swainson says parachute issues are not common, but admits they do happen. He says that's why they train for at least six hours before a solo jump and have instructors watching, to try to help.

"She had a radio in her helmet and the radio controller on the drop zone is giving her instruction," he said.

Swainson says he teaches between 1,000 and 1,200 new divers every year. He says there are occasional injuries from hard landings, but even those are few and far between.

However Makenzie's dad says he only recalls two or three hours of training. And he says his daughter blacked out and could not control her landing.

He believes the training wasn't good enough for a 16-year-old to attempt a solo jump. In fact, according to Joe he didn't realize the dive would be solo rather than tandem, with an instructor, until the two arrived for training. He says Makenzie had done the research and made the plans.

The Pegasus Air Sport website specifies that they do not operate tandem dives.

Makenzie's mother Holly says she would have never allowed her daughter to go if she thought she would be jumping alone.

"I did have a gut feeling," she said. She waited to sign the permission form at the last minute on Friday to allow Makenzie to jump.

"Someone's going to take responsibility, and it's not gonna be that 16-year-old that's laying in a hospital bed," Joe said. He would not comment on what legal action his family might or might not take against the company.

For now he says he's just happy Makenzie has pulled through. He says she's a straight-A student and athlete and is working for an academic scholarship to go to college. He says he's glad her future won't take a major hit, just because Makenzie did.

"I hope it's still bright," Joe said, "I'm pretty sure it will be."

Amazingly, Joe says when his daughter is healed she wants to jump again. Although he says next time she'll have to go tandem with an instructor strapped on for safety.