The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

January 31, 2014

Enid man complained about Chickasha skydiving company

16-year-old Texas girl was injured in her first skydive

By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Three years ago, long before 16-year-old Makenzie Wethington’s first skydive ended with a perilous fall from 3,000 feet above Chickasha, an Enid man complained to the FAA about the same company.

In a letter to the FAA dated Oct. 17, 2010, Enid resident Larry Zerger said he approached Pegasus Air Sports to schedule his first jump. When he arrived in Chickasha, though, he was disturbed by what he saw.

Zerger said Pegasus Air Sports owner Robert Swainson led him to a hangar with two planes.

“They each looked pretty old and were very weathered,” Zerger wrote. “I noted the parachutes looked like they had been used many times over the years.”

He also complained an electric transmission line was at the edge of the drop zone. Zerger said he canceled his appointment to jump and returned to Enid.

The FAA responded to his complaint about a month later.

“We have found insufficient evidence to proceed with an enforcement action” of regulations, federal safety inspector John Thomas wrote, “and we consider this matter closed.”

The FAA said Friday its records show no previous accidents, incidents or closed enforcements for Pegasus Air Sports.

Wethington, of Joshua, Texas, was injured during a jump  Jan. 25. Swainson told The Associated Press the parachute opened OK, but she began to spiral downward.

“It was correctable, but corrective action didn’t appear to have been taken,” he said.

New jumpers at Swainson’s business undergo several hours of training beforehand, he said.

Wethington was released from OU Medical Center Friday afternoon to rehabilitate in the Dallas area.

When reached Friday, Zerger said he approached Pegasus Air Sports after parasailing in Hawaii.

“It was such a great experience that I thought I’d like to do a skydive,” he said.

When he went for that skydive, though, he said the brief time he spent in Chickasha was a “horrid situation.”

Swainson has spent the better part of a week defending his company and the sport of skydiving. He casually dismissed Zerger’s complaints because of the FAA’s response.

“Probably there wasn’t anything to it. That’s the problem. A lot of people talk about it,” Swainson said. “He might have not known a whole lot about skydiving, either.”

The FAA has been to visit his operation because of the recent situation, too. Meanwhile, Swainson says he’s still taking calls from people interested in jumping.

“It’s unfortunate what happened to the young lady,” he said. “Obviously, whatever I say doesn’t count for much but she got good training. If she’d have done a few things differently, she wouldn’t have had (any) problems at all.”

There are obvious dangers inherent to the sport, he said.

“We spend a lot of time telling people about the potential hazards of the sport. They happen,” Swainson said. “Mine probably wasn’t the only one around the country this weekend. I got more publicity than anyone else and that’s why everyone’s talking about it.”