Ben Russell, NBC 5 News
Sixteen-year-old Makenzie Wethington of Joshua plummeted more than 3,000 feet to the ground in a skydiving accident and is recovering at an Oklahoma City hospital. Wethington is expected to undergo several surgeries to repair many injuries over the next few days.
A North Texas teen is in intensive care in an Oklahoma hospital after a skydiving accident on Saturday.
Makenzie Wethington, 16, of Joshua, fell approximately 3,500 feet to the ground when something went wrong.
"The whole thing that's keeping us going is because she's still alive and really she shouldn't be," said Meagan Wethington, Makenzie Wethington's sister.
Makenzie Wethington's family members said she suffered a broken vertebrae in her back as well as a broken pelvis.The teenager is also experiencing bleeding in her brain, lungs and liver, in addition to several other injuries related to the fall.
Makenzie Wethington and her father traveled to Chickasha, Okla., Saturday so that the Joshua High School sophomore could finally live out her dream of skydiving, according to her sister.
Dr. Jeffrey Bender was the trauma surgeon on duty when Wethington arrived at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center. He told reporters on Tuesday that initially, he didn’t think she would survive.
“It helped her being healthy. That’s for sure,” said Bender.
Bender also credited the work of the EMS crew who intubated the teen at the scene before transporting her to the hospital.
Owner Says Victim "Did Not Follow the Training"
A representative from a company that books skydiving trips for 4,500 companies around the country told NBC DFW on Monday that jumpers typically must be a minimum of 18-years-old. The company said that the majority of first-time jumps are done in tandem with an experienced skydiver.
Pegasus Air Sports Center reportedly allowed Makenzie Wethington to jump solo, with her father's consent, at 16-years-old.
Pegasus Air Sports Center is for sale, according to its website.
The person who answered the phone at Pegasus Air Sports Center Monday night hung up when an NBC DFW reporter called and identified himself asking for information.
Owner Bob Swainson of Pegasus Air Sports Center talked with our sister station in Oklahoma and stated that jumpers are trained to try and help themselves through difficult scenarios.
"We go through those scenarios and tell the jumper how to control, how to fix the problem. From what we can determine, she did not do that, go through that training as taught," Swainson said.
But when asked about if the parachute itself could have been behind the fall, Swainson said simply, "There was nothing wrong with the parachute."
"She probably panicked and did not follow the training. You’ve got to keep your head when you skydive. That’s why people skydive. It is a dangerous activity. You’ve got to learn to keep your head even on your first jump, you have to keep your head. And often people debate, well, it’s my first jump, but you’ve still got to keep your head," Swainson said.
"And there’s nothing you can say to the parents, the family because you know they’re certainly upset. There’s nothing I can say to the parents, the family that they’ll probably understand, that will make them feel better," Swainson said.
Wethington's father, Joe, said the accident was so traumatic his daughter doesn’t want to talk about it.
“I was asking her why she didn't do a cutaway or why she didn't pull the reserve and at first she said she tried, but when I asked her about it some more, she said she didn't want to talk about. She said she blacked out,” said Joe Wethington.
Wethington believes his daughter experienced a toggle fire and was not properly trained on how to respond.
Swainson insists the parachute fully opened and that it began rotating shortly after she exited the plane. He said Wethington was taught how to maneuver out of a spiral and failed to follow proper training procedures and emergency directions from the ground crew.
The FAA regulates the flying apparatus, including the parachutes, used in skydiving, and said it will investigate the accident.
Family Recalls the "Horror" of Accident
Makenzie Wethington's father, Joe, jumped from the airplane just before his daughter.
"I wanted to be behind her, you know, in case something happened, I could be behind her. 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,” said her father, Joe Wethington.
After Wethington made his jump, he watched Makenzie's jump from the ground and knew something was wrong.
"She’s just now coming out of the plane, but she’s flipping out of the plane," Wethington said.
"It was a horror to see, no matter who it was, but I sure didn’t want it to be my little girl," said Joe Wethington.
Wethington's sister Meagan gave an account of the skydiving accident.
"When she jumped, the plane pulled the cord for her. Her parachute went up but it didn't go out. It was just up," she said.
"And my dad said that the guy on the ground was talking to [my sister] through the radio, they had a radio in their ears. And my dad just heard him keep saying, 'Reach up. Pull the chute out. Reach up. Pull the chute out. You need to calm down, calm down. Just reach up and pull the chute out, or push the emergency chute."
Makenzie's father, Joe, said one side of the chute didn’t completely open. Joe claims the instructor didn’t leave the plane to help his daughter, because another jumper decided not to make the jump.
"And then the guy, the instructor, flew with the plane. He never came out of the plane because of the coward that wouldn’t come out ahead of her, that didn’t go. I shouldn’t say that, but the guy ahead of her didn’t go. He had to ride the plane down with him," the father said.
"When you got a parachute in trouble, and the instructor or the jump master has to ride the plane down because someone wouldn’t go out the door, it just doesn’t seem right," said Joe Wethington.
Wethington said he tried to comfort his daughter as she suffered in pain on the ground.
"She would scream, she would scream and arch her back, and ask me to rub her back. And she kept telling everybody to get off of her. And wasn’t nobody on her. Wasn’t nobody touching her. She’d scream, and then real loud, just a horrible scream," Wethington said.
As a medical helicopter rushed her to OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City, her mom, Holly, got the news.
"It was like somebody sat on my chest, really, an elephant. And it did not come off until I got here, of course, not knowing if she was gonna be okay, or not. Nobody survives that," said Holly Wethington.
The good news for Wethington, according to her sister, 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 Wethington told NBC DFW. "[It's] spectacular."
Per Makenzie Wethington's sister, the teen's internal bleeding has stopped and she is expected to undergo several surgeries to repair her many injuries over the next few days.
On Tuesday, dozens of her classmates at Joshua High School made "Get Well" letters for the sophomore.
"They just, everyone wants her to get better because she's a miracle. That she's still alive it is absolutely a miracle," said Meagan Wethington, Makenzie Wethington's sister who will personally deliver the condolences to the teen's bedside Wednesday.
NBC 5's Ben Russell, Kendra Lyn, and Greg Janda contributed to this report. Oklahoma affiliate KFOR assisted with video and information for this story.