Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Probe: Parachute OK In Teen’s Skydiving Accident

DALLAS — The parachute worn by a 16-year-old skydiver as she plummeted 3,000 feet to the ground was in good working condition at the time of her jump, federal investigators said.

Mackenzie Wethington went skydiving in Oklahoma with her father in January to celebrate her birthday. Her parachute malfunctioned soon after she jumped from the plane and she was unable to correct the problem. The impact of the fall broke several bones, damaged her liver and a kidney, and caused bleeding in her brain. Wethington, of Joshua, was expected to fully recover.

In a report released Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration said it has no plans to pursue a civil case against Pegasus Air Sports Center in Chickasha, Okla., where Wethington made her skydive.

FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford said investigators found no evidence of any safety violations by Pegasus.

“We make no findings of blame and draw no conclusions beyond verifying the condition of the parachute,” Lunsford added in an email.

The FAA said the parachute opened with twisted lines, a malfunction that can be corrected if the skydiver kicks in the opposite direction of the twists. An instructor used a radio to remind the teenager how to untangle the lines, but she panicked and was unable to correct the problem, according to the report.

“She started spiraling and picked up speed,” said Jacob Martinez, the radio operator.

Bob Swainson, owner of Pegasus Air Sports, told the FAA that Wethington “was not doing any of the commands that he gave her to try to stop the spin.”

The teenager has described how she screamed then blacked out as she fell to the ground.

“I remember jumping out of the plane and looking up and seeing that there was a complication with the parachute and so I started kicking my feet like I was taught in the class and I looked up and it still wasn’t fixing so I tried to pull the toggles apart,” she said at a February press conference at a Dallas hospital.

“I just was not strong enough to fight off the wind,” she added. “I just remember screaming and then I blacked out and I don’t remember anything after that, for three days after.”

KRLD-AM in Dallas first reported the results of the investigation.

The Wethington family did not have a listed phone number, and attempts to reach the family through her local school district and the hospital were unsuccessful.

Swainson declined to comment on the report Tuesday. Pegasus Air Sports’ voicemail greeting says the center no longer takes trainee skydivers, but Swainson said that decision was unrelated to Wethington’s accident.

Starting in May, the U.S. Parachute Association raised its minimum age for first-time skydivers nationwide to 18 years, replacing a provision that allowed younger skydivers to jump with their parents’ permission.

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