Skydiving accident survivor wins $760K lawsuit

Image 1 of 5

The victim of a parachute accident has won a lawsuit against the Oklahoma-based operator of a skydiving company.

In January 2014, Makenzie Wethington and her father traveled from their home in Joshua to Pegasus Air Sports Center near Chickasha, Okla., where 16-year-olds with parental consent could skydive.

In a decision he would come to regret, Joseph Wethington gave consent for his daughter to jump. He jumped first and was on the ground watching in horror as Makenzie followed.  He said her chute was tangled and not fully open.

"All she was doing was just spiraling down, you know," he said.

A mound of dirt blocked him from seeing her hit the ground but he was there seconds later.

"She was just trying to breathe and you could see the fear in her eyes," Joseph said.  "When she opened her eyes you could just see. When she did breathe, she just let out a horrifying scream.  It was terrible."

Makenzie suffered injuries to her liver, kidney and brain.  She also broke her pelvis, lumbar spine, shoulder blade and several ribs.

Pegasus Air Sports Center owner Robert Swainson claimed initially there was nothing wrong with the parachute. The Wethingtons sued him claiming Makenzie did not receive proper training and was given a small, high-speed parachute.

The Wethington's attorney, Robert Haslam, said Swainson sold his business and failed to show for any of the court hearings. He apparently left for England, so it's not clear if the Wethingtons will ever receive the $760,000 a federal court awarded them.

"We'll have to go through the treaties.  I'm in the process of talking with an attorney from England to go over and try to collect the judgment," Haslam said.  "We're not gonna quit.  Put it that way. We'll see what happens."

After several weeks of therapy at Baylor Hospital in Dallas, Makenzie was able to go home to Joshua.  Doctors were amazed that she'd survived and also at the speed of her recovery.  She graduated near the top of her high school class and is now attending Sam Houston State University.

FOX 4's Richard Ray talked with her by phone.

"I still have problems with my kidneys. I get kidney infections quite often. But I've recovered quite remarkably," Makenzie said.

Richard Ray asked:  "Any intention to ever skydive again?"

"Absolutely not," she said.

Since Makenzie's accident, the U.S. Parachute Association has changed a rule that used to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to jump with a parent's consent.  Now the minimum age nationwide is 18.