A Texas teen who fell 3,500 feet from an airplane in a skydiving accident in Chickasha was recovering Tuesday at OU Medical Center, and her parents questioned whether she was properly trained and equipped for the jump.
Makenzie Wethington, 16, of Joshua, Texas, suffered a major fracture in her liver, broke her pelvis, shoulder blade, several ribs, a lumbar vertebra in her lower spine and a tooth after complications during her jump on Saturday caused her to spiral down after her chute opened.
Wethington was moved out of the intensive care unit Tuesday afternoon and is in good condition, with feeling in her extremities and the ability to speak, leaving doctors marveling at her recovery.
Wethington's parents, Joe and Holly Wethington, said it was Makenzie's dream to go skydiving on her 16th birthday at Pegasus Air Sports in Chickasha, as Oklahoma allows 16-year-olds to sky-dive with parental permission. The legal age to sky-dive in Texas is 18.
Paramedics responded to the accident scene in about 15 minutes. Jeffrey Bender, the OU Medical Center trauma surgeon who treated Wethington, was not initially optimistic about Wethington's future upon her arrival.
“When I saw her in the emergency department, I would have predicted she was not going to survive all of this,” Bender said. “But I'm always happy to be wrong about these things.”
Wethington's parents said doctors called their daughter's recovery “miraculous.”
Within 12 hours of arriving at OU medical, her internal bleeding had stabilized and she began regaining consciousness, Bender said. She is expected to go through six to eight weeks of rehabilitation before being back at full strength.
Bob Swainson, owner of Pegasus, was in the airplane when Wethington jumped. He said her chute opened fully but took a left turn after opening and spiraled to the ground.
Swainson, who has been skydiving for 46 years, said he did not want to speculate on whether the parachute or Wethington caused the turn.
“All I'm going to say is it had a bit of a turn, and it wasn't corrected,” he said. “It probably could have been corrected.”
Joe Wethington was also in the airplane and successfully jumped and landed before his daughter. He watched from the ground as he saw the next jumper tumble through the air, praying it wasn't Wethington, but another first-time jumper who was on the plane.
His worst fears were confirmed when he ran over to find his daughter writhing in pain.
“She was screaming real bad and acting like she had the wind knocked out of her, wheezing,” Joe Wethington said. “Then she started screaming, ‘Get off me, get off me,' and nobody was on her. Then she told me to rub her back and she'd start screaming real loud.”
Swainson said Wethington and her father went through about six hours of training before they jumped, which is standard for new jumpers at Pegasus. But Joe Wethington said it was closer to two or three hours.
Pegasus is registered with the United States Parachute Association, a nonprofit organization that promotes safety in the sport. According to its website, the association requires four hours of training for first-time static line jumpers, which is what Pegasus offers.
In that training, Swainson said, jumpers are taught how to respond in emergency situations and deploy backup chutes. During Wethington's fall, a radio operator on the ground instructed her to deploy her backup chute, but she did not do so.
The Wethingtons said their daughter was not appropriately trained to handle the emergency situation she faced in the air, and she did not have the strength to do what the radio operator asked.
Joe Wethington said he wants to find out if she was using faulty equipment provided by Pegasus.
“She wasn't prepared,” Joe Wethington said. “We weren't walked through the steps for the malfunction that did take place, at all.”
The Wethingtons said they are considering hiring legal counsel, but focus remains on their daughter's immediate health.
Wethington's high school classmates sent her a giant card with get-well wishes and a prayer vigil was held Sunday at a community park in Joshua.
“It's amazing what everyone is doing,” Holly Wethington said. “Prayers everywhere.”