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Texas teen escapes death when parachute fails on birthday dive

By Jana J. Pruet

DALLAS (Reuters) - A Texas girl on a dream skydiving trip to celebrate her 16th birthday narrowly escaped death on her first jump when her parachute malfunctioned at 3,500 feet and she crashed to the ground.

Makenzie Wethington was hospitalized with a broken pelvis, broken vertebrae, broken ribs, internal bleeding and other injuries from the weekend accident, her family told local TV news broadcasters on Tuesday.

She went to Oklahoma for the jump because she was too young to do it in Texas, her sister Meagan Wethington told Fox 4 News in Dallas. "In Texas you have to be 18. You have to jump four times tandem - with another person. In Oklahoma you only have to be 16," she said.

After completing a required six-hour training class at Pegasus Air Sports Center in Oklahoma, Makenzie Wethington and her father, Joe, boarded a small aircraft.

The teen's father jumped first and landed safely. He then watched his daughter jump.

"I wanted to be behind her, you know, in case something happened. 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," Joe Wethington told NBC 5 in Dallas.

Her parachute came out about two seconds after she jumped but she spiraled and slammed onto a grassy field.

"It was a horror to see, no matter who it was, but I sure didn't want it to be my little girl," Wethington said.

The owner of Pegasus Air Sports Center, Robert Swainson, said it was not clear whether the spiral was caused by the teen or if it happened when the parachute deployed.

He said it was a 'static line' jump in which a cord is attached to the deployment bag on the skydiver and the aircraft. The tether in this case was set to have the parachute deploy 2 seconds after the jump.

Swainson said in a telephone interview that the teen's helmet contained a radio receiver and radio control operators on the ground were giving her instructions, but she did not respond.

The teen is expected to recover from her injuries, her family said.

(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Toni Reinhold)

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