CHICKASHA. Okla. – A 16-year-old girl is alive after falling 3,500 feet during a skydiving accident over Chickasha; that is the length of more than four Devon Towers end-to-end.
She and her family came to Oklahoma to celebrate her 16th birthday with a skydiving adventure that ended up putting her in ICU.
Dispatch: “911. What’s your emergency?”
Caller: “I just had a first-time jumper get hurt out here at Pegasus Air Sport in Chickasha, Oklahoma.”
That first-time jumper was 16-year-old Makenzie Wethington from the Fort Worth, Texas area.
“Nobody survives that,” her mother, Holly Wethington, said.
She is in intensive care and in and out of sleep.
Each time she is awake she remembers bits and pieces of her horrifying experience but her father Joe Wethington remembers much more.
According to KXAS, our Dallas sister station, Joe jumped out of the plane first.
He said he wanted to jump after Makenzie but because of weight limitations and balance restrictions in the plane, he went first and his daughter went last.
He said only half of the parachute opened as Makenzie spiraled to the ground.
“The guy with the radio on the ground is trying to talk her out of what’s going on and telling her what to do and she cant do it,” Joe Wethington said. “She’s going too fast and in different directions. She can’t reach up and grab it anyway and then when she goes into the spiral, he keeps telling her to cut away to release the shoot and to pull the reserve.”
But the owner of Pegasus Air Sports in Chickasha said the parachute completely opened.
“The jumper left the airplane,” Bob Swainson said. “The parachute appeared to open OK. Soon after the opening the parachute started to rotate. There are a number of technical reasons why that could have happened, possibly caused by the jumper herself. The jumper didn’t sort out the rotation in accordance with the training she received earlier and continued to rotate to the ground and hurt herself.”
Makenzie hit the ground after falling 3,500 feet.
“She would scream and arch her back and ask me to rub her back,” her father said.
Paramedics soon arrived and Makenzie was airlifted to OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City.
“It was like somebody was sitting on my chest, an elephant, and it did not come off until I got here not knowing if she was going to be OK or not,” Holly said.
And doctors are telling the Wethingtons Makenzie is going to survive.
“She’s a miracle child,” Joe Wethington said. “She’s doing well and she’s going to be alright.”
The Wethingtons said Makenzie will be in ICU for a few more days.
KXAS reported the family said Makenzie has a broken back and pelvis.
Her family said she also has bleeding in her brain, lungs and liver.
The good news for Wethington, according to her sister Meagan, is that she has wiggled her toes and has been able to speak and write messages to her family.
“And now she’s breathing on her own,” Meagan told NBC DFW. “[It's] spectacular.”
Skydiving Protocol and Guidelines
The United States Parachute Association is a non-profit organization skydiving schools, schools clubs and centers, or “drop zones,” join to ensure they are properly trained and are using recognized training programs and safety standards.
Nancy Koreen with the USPA said the association sets the guidelines and best practices for groups and the member groups agree to comply.
Koreen said Pegasus Air Sport in Chickasha, Oklahoma, is a member.
According to Koreen, solo jumping after a 4 to 5 course is an approved practice.
Koreen could not speak on the accident because she said she didn’t have the specific facts.
However, she said the association could revoke the group’s membership if it is proven they were not following guidelines.
She said the USPA doesn’t do the investigation.
Groups are asked to report injuries but only to see if there are trends.
Koreen said she didn’t know if Pegasus had reported previous injuries.
The Federal Aviation Administration oversees certain parts of the industry including parachute operations, drop zones and aircraft regulation.
It states the owner is retiring after 46 years in the sport and 36 years as a drop zone owner.
Currently more than 220 U.S. drop zones are affiliated with the USPA.
Watch an interview with Mackenzie’s surgeon. Dr. Jeffrey Bender with OU Medical Center