A 16-year-old Joshua, TX girl's desire to skydive nearly killed her, and despite what her family says, the owner of the skydiving company involved denies there were any malfunctions with the teen's parachute.
Mackenzie Wethington's first jump on Jan. 25 landed her in the hospital with several broken bones and major internal injuries after her family members say her primary parachute didn't open properly.
She's still in a lot of pain, but days after the accident, Mackenzie was able to stand, with assistance, in her hospital room.
The Oklahoma skydiving company required Mackenzie and her father to sign a release and sit through six hours of training before jumping. They were not required to do a tandem jump because a static line attached to the airplane was supposed to deploy their parachutes automatically.
Meagan, Mackenzie's older sister, says Mackenzie's parachute somehow got tangled or didn't open properly. She was wearing an emergency chute and instructors on a radio tried to talk her through opening it, but she stopped responding and may have blacked out.
Bob Swainson, who is the owner of the skydiving company as well as an instructor, says that Mackenzie's chute opened fully, and that the scenario that led to her injuries was something that the training covered.
Swainson did not explain specifically what Mackenzie should have done, but he did say, "The corrective action was not taken."
"Parachutes sometime have minor irregularities with them, and that's what the training is about," said Swainson. "We go over a whole series of scenarios and we go through some drills."
Swainson went on to tell FOX4, "I am absolutely confident there was nothing wrong with the parachute."
Mackenzie was all smiles Saturday, just minutes before her birthday skydiving dream.
"In Texas you have to be 18," said Meagan. "You have to jump four times tandem – with another person. In Oklahoma you only have to be 16."
Mackenzie posed for photos with her dad just before boarding a private plane, moments before her dream at 3,500 feet in the air became a nightmare.
"She honestly keeps saying is, she just thinks it was her fault, because she couldn't reach up and pull the chute," said Meagan.
Mackenzie's father jumped first, and she jumped next. Meagan says another man was supposed to jump with them, but he was too afraid, so Swainson never jumped.
Mackenzie's father, Joe, landed safely, but he told an Oklahoma TV station that the parachute opened "halfway" before he had to watch his daughter's struggle and spiraling freefall to the ground.
"Her vertebrae broke in half," said Meagan. "Her pelvic bone completely split in half. She has more broken bones in her back. She has two broken ribs … her teeth."
Mackenzie is being hospitalized at OU Medical Center, where she's making progress. She is now breathing on her own and talking.
"Even the nurses and doctors who heard about the story, they were like, 'How? How is she still here? She obviously, she hit the ground, but she did not hit the ground. God's hand caught her. Had to have been," said Meagan.
Meagan says her sister is expected to make a full recovery, but will wear a neck and back brace for a while.
Friends are now selling T-shirts to help the family with medical bills.
KDFW FOX 4
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