Teen’s 3,500-foot skydiving fall raising questions; Who regulates industry? What caused accident?

Posted on: 7:58 am, January 29, 2014, by , updated on: 11:28am, January 29, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY – A 16-year-old girl is recovering from a broken pelvis, a broken lumbar spine, a broken shoulder-blade, broken ribs and a broken tooth after surviving an unimaginable accident.

Texan Makenzie Wethington fell more than 3,000 feet from the sky over Chickasha while making her first skydiving jump solo over the weekend.

“You understand, I don’t know the particulars of the accident as I wasn’t there but if she truly fell 3,000 feet I have no idea how she survived,” OU Trauma Surgeon Dr. Jeffery Bender said.

As Makenzie heals, many people are wondering who, if anyone, regulates the skydiving industry in our state.

Makenzie told her family she wanted to go skydiving for her 16th birthday.

Because of her young age, she could not legally do it in her home state of Texas.

So, she traveled to Oklahoma.

Her story has made headlines around the world.

Many are questioning how Makenzie survived a 3,500-foot spiral to the ground.

Now questions are swirling about the skydiving facility where the accident happened and who regulates the sport.

Makenzie’s parents, Joe and Holly, said you have to be 18 to skydive in Texas but in Oklahoma, thrill seekers can jump at 16 with parental consent.

16-year-old girl survives more than 3,500-foot fall from plane in first solo skydiving jump

Joe Wethington signed the release form from Pegasus Air Sports and gave Makenzie permission and minutes after the accident, he said the owner of the business was only concerned about that form, not his injured daughter.

“His only concern was that release paper,” Joe said. “He snatched it and folded it up and put it in his jump suit.”

We talked to a legal expert about that release who said it is only good if everything goes as planned, and in Makenzie’s case, it did not.

“The release only works if they do everything right,” Attorney David Slane said. “If they become negligent and do other things wrong then they can still be sued.”

Makenzie’s parents claim the gear is to blame.

“I think it’s equipment failure,” Joe said.

However, owner Bob Swainson says it is too early to tell.

“We talk about various scenarios where parachutes do various things which they are not necessarily supposed to do and we go through those scenarios and tell the jumper how to fix the problem and from what we can tell, she did not.”

Skydiving is not heavily regulated in Oklahoma but guidelines are set by the United States Parachute Association.

Membership is voluntary.

NewsChannel 4 checked and Swainson is a member.

It is up to individuals to report accidents; Swainson said he reported Makenzie’s.

As far as other incidents at Pegasus, court documents show a 2003 lawsuit was filed but dismissed and the Chickasha Fire Department said they have been on 12 emergency calls involving Swainson’s business since 2001.

Swainson claims he is also a glider pilot, was in the British Air Force and does not believe his equipment is to blame; a question nobody can answer but Makenzie.

“When the girl recovers more fully she may be able to tell us,” he said.

Still in ICU, Makenzie’s family said she is a miracle.

“Makenzie fell out of a plane, but she’s in God’s hands,” Joe Wethington said.

NewsChannel 4 spoke with the FAA where officials said they are investigating.

Since NewsChannel 4 first aired this story Monday, we have heard from others who said they too have used this same skydiving service and did not have a good experience.

We will look into those claims and keep you posted.