Texas teen who survived 3,000-foot fall in sky-diving accident wins $760,000 in lawsuit
A North Texas woman who survived a fall of more than 3,000 feet to the ground in a sky-diving accident in Oklahoma three years ago has won $760,000 in a lawsuit.
Makenzie Wethington, then 16, injured her liver and kidney, suffered bleeding in her brain and broke her pelvis, lumbar spine, shoulder blade and several ribs when her parachute malfunctioned above Chickasha on Jan. 25, 2014. She also chipped several teeth.
Her lawsuit claimed that she wasn't properly trained for the jump and that her parachute was inappropriate for her skill level.
But Robert Swainson, who owned the now-closed Pegasus Air Sports Center in Chickasha, argued that Makenzie panicked during the jump and failed to follow instructions.
The teen had wanted to sky-dive as a high school graduation present. But she begged her parents to let her jump as a birthday present when she learned that the minimum age to jump alone in Oklahoma was 16. The U.S. Parachuting Association responded to the incident by raising the minimum age to 18 nationwide.
Makenzie's father, Joe Wethington, made the 200-mile drive to Oklahoma with her and was the first to jump from the plane that morning. The sky divers were making a static-line jump, where a lanyard attached to the plane is connected to the parachute, causing the chute to open automatically.
Wethington said that when his daughter jumped, her parachute opened only partially and she began to spin toward the ground.
Swainson, the chief instructor at Pegasus for more than three decades, disputed that, saying her parachute opened completely and that it had a slight turn — something he said she could have easily corrected using techniques from his five-hour class before the jump.
"There are other things you can do to stop the turn, but she didn't do anything," he said. "I think she just panicked."
The Federal Aviation Administration released a report in June 2014 saying that Makenzie's parachute was in good working condition at the time of the jump. It found no evidence of safety violations at Pegasus Air Sports Center.
Joe, who had consented for his daughter to make the jump, later said it shouldn't have been allowed.
"I don't think she should have been allowed at 16 to go up there and perform that type of jump; no matter what I say or she says, she shouldn't have been allowed," he said. "I find it very hard to believe that the rules and regulations in Oklahoma are that lax."