A Chapel Hill teenager whose coach called her one of the world’s best competitive jump ropers was killed in a plane crash near the Idaho-Wyoming border.
Bonneville County authorities responded to a crash Monday afternoon at the edge of Palisades Reservoir, about two miles north of Alpine Airport. Rescue crews used snowmobiles and rescue sleds to reach the area, which had 2 to 3 feet of snow.
Mackenzie Ruston, 17, of Chapel Hill, and pilot Reade Genzlinger, 61, of Bryn Athyn, Pa., were killed in the crash, Bonneville County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Bryan Lovell said. Both were part-time residents of Alpine, Wyo.
The victims’ family members were flying nearby in two other aircraft when Genzlinger’s small plane – a Yak 52 Russian trainer aircraft – went down less than a mile from the Idaho state line, Lovell said. The other planes landed safely, he said.
“The plane (carrying Ruston) had been flying low and went in to the ground,” he said. “They were going up and down around the area ... and crashed just off the end of the runway.”
The mountainous area is a popular spot for recreational flights, Lovell said, and the small town of Alpine has many part-time residents living in cabins along the runway. While crashes are not common, he said, another pilot was killed in an October crash in the same area.
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating Monday’s crash, Lovell said.
Ruston was a senior at East Chapel High School and a member of the Bouncing Bulldogs jump-rope team for 13 years, beginning when she was 4 years old.
East Chapel Hill Principal Eileen Tully told students and parents in a recorded statement Tuesday that “this is the worst kind of phone call a principal will ever make.”
“Yesterday, we lost a beloved member of our school family,” Tulley said.
“Our condolences certainly go out to Mackenzie’s family, friends and her loved ones,” she continued. “Counseling support has been added to our school today from the district to assist students and staff with grieving. If you would like any sort of advice or assistance on how to best engage your child in this difficult conversation, please don’t hesitate to call on us.”
‘A major impact’
Coach Ray Frederick Jr., who founded the competitive jump rope team in 1985, said Ruston was one of two members he has coached from age 4 through their senior year of high school.
“I felt deep down in my heart this young lady is going to have a major impact on the world,” he said.
Ruston, one of the two co-captains of the 140-member team this year, was part of a four-person group that finished first in the World Jump Rope Competition single rope speed relay event last year in Paris. She was known for a move Frederick called a front tuck with a rope in which she would do a front flip with the rope passing beneath her feet before she landed.
Ruston posted a video montage about jumping rope to YouTube in October, saying “what we do cannot always be explained with words.”
“I’ve traveled around the world, making new friends everywhere I go,” she said in the video. “I’ve learned discipline, hard work, communication, leadership, community service, respect creativity and teamwork. Each day I work to be a mentor and a positive influence for the next generation of jumpers.”
A rainy day
Ruston coached Chapel Hill resident Sarah Shapard’s daughter, Samanatha, 8, on the Bouncing Bulldogs.
She was patient with the younger children and a good friend, Shapard said, recalling a rainy day when Ruston spotted Samantha crossing the gym parking lot without an umbrella. Ruston ran to open the door for her and then got a towel to help Samantha dry off.
“She was very patient with them, and she worked hard with them,” Shapard said. “Samantha might be distracted, and she’d somehow make Samantha focus, and she did that with humor and with a smile in her heart.”
Ruston also was humble and “would always give the credit to some one else,” Frederick said. “She was always the last to leave the gym. She expected the most out of herself. She was one of the few jumpers who could challenge me.”
At 6 a.m. Tuesday, when many of the Bouncing Bulldogs jumpers gathered for morning practice at Timberlyne shopping center in Chapel Hill, Frederick said co-captain Isabel Osborne took a headcount.
“When Isabel counted 72, I said, ‘Add one more,’” he said. “That’s the impact (Ruston) had. Her spirit was in that room.”