First-Time Jumpers Must Be 18: Skydiving Association

The U.S. Parachute Association will increase the minimum age for first-time skydivers nationwide to 18 years starting May 1, replacing a provision that allowed younger teens to jump with parental consent.

The USPA determines safety standards to be set at the skydiving centers affiliated with the association.

USPA spokeswoman Nancy Koreen says the change isn't related to the recent incident in Oklahoma in which a 16-year-old girl plummeted 3,000 feet to the ground after her parachute malfunctioned.

The owner of the company that booked Makenzie Wethington's skydiving trip said "there was nothing wrong with the parachute" and that the teen "did not follow the training."

Pegasus Air Sports Center reportedly allowed Makenzie Wethington to jump solo, with her father's consent.

Wethington, survived and is recovering from her injuries at a rehabilitation home.

"I don't think any father ought to have to experience that, you know," said Joe Wethington, Makenzie Wethington's father. "I mean I'll never forget it. Her scream and the fear in her eyes when she was on the ground. I'll never forget that, so it's something I don't think anyone else should ever have to experience."

In an email to The Associated Press, Koreen said raising the age limit has been an issue that the USPA and the skydiving industry "have been struggling with the past couple of years."

"I feel that it oughta be a law, not just a rule," said Joe Wethington. "Because a lot of people, like, for instance, where we were at, is not following rules. Because it's only a rule. I mean it should be a law. That way they're held accountable."

Koreen said skydiving equipment manufacturers have already instituted 18 as the minimum age for use of their gear "in reaction to an increasingly litigious society."

If a drop zone violates this rule, it can lose its affiliation, according to Koreen. Affiliation with USPA gives a drop zone credibility and sets an industry standard for quality assurance. 

The new minimum age restriction is in no way connected to Wethington's accident, Koreen said.

NBC 5's Ben Russell contributed to this report.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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