A Texas girl on a dream skydiving trip to celebrate her 16th birthday narrowly escaped death on her first jump when her parachute malfunctioned at 3,500ft and she crashed to the ground.
Trauma surgeon Dr Jeffrey Bender said that Makenzie Wethington hurt her liver, broke her pelvis, lumbar spine in her lower back, a shoulder blade, and several ribs and a tooth in the fall in Chickasha, Oklahoma.
“I don’t know the particulars of the accident, as I wasn’t there. But if she truly fell 3,500ft, I have no idea how she survived,” said Dr Bender, of OU Medical Centre in Oklahoma City.
He said Makenzie was expected to leave the hospital’s intensive care unit.
The girl’s parents let her jump, but her father, Joe Wethington, now says the skydiving company should not have allowed it.
She went to Oklahoma for the jump because she was too young to do it in Texas, her sister Meagan Wethington told Fox 4 News in Dallas. “In Texas you have to be 18. You have to jump four times tandem — with another person. In Oklahoma, you only have to be 16,” she said.
Nancy Koreen, director of sport promotion at the US Parachute Association, said its safety requirements allow someone who is 16 to make a dive with parental consent, though some places set the age higher.
Robert Swainson, owner and chief instructor at Pegasus Air Sports Centre, defended the company, saying Makenzie’s father went up with his daughter and was the first to jump.
Mr Swainson said Makenzie’s parachute opened correctly but she began to spiral downward when the chute went up, but not out. He said divers were given instruction during a six-to- seven-hour training session on how to deal with such problems.
He also said Makenzie had a radio hook-up in her helmet through which someone gave her instructions.
“It was correctable, but corrective action didn’t appear to have been taken,” Mr Swainson said.
Mr Swainson said he did not jump out to help Makenzie because there was no way he could have reached her and another jumper got scared and refused to make the jump.
Mr Swainson said it was protocol for him to remain with the frightened person because instructors do not know what that person will do.
“The most I could have done is screamed,” he said.
The teen’s father jumped first and landed safely. He then watched his daughter jump.
“I wanted to be behind her, you know, in case something happened. But that couldn’t happen because of the weight of the plane and the people, so I had to be first. She had to be last,” Mr Wethington told NBC 5 in Dallas.
Her parachute came out about two seconds after she jumped but she spiralled and slammed onto a grassy field.
“It was a horror to see, no matter who it was, but I sure didn’t want it to be my little girl,” Mr Wethington said.
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