Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas doctor was devoted to her patients and found adventure in skydiving

ST. PETERSBURG — Dr. Elaine McLaughlin-Wrage needed an antidote to her 12-hour days and endless weeks of work.

She found it in silent minutes of weightlessness.

The family practice physician loved her job, but balanced its demands with frequent trips to Skydive City in Zephyrhills, where she jumped from planes with her husband.

While he made hot dog moves and daredevil landings, she tended to open her parachute earlier and simply take in the view of the Gulf of Mexico miles to her west. She floated down the last 4,000 feet on a pillow of air.

She died Sunday after her chute failed to open properly during a jump.

She was 60.

"Skydiving is one of the most relaxing things we did," said Ed Wrage, her husband. "When you're up two and a half miles, there is no real sensation of speed. You are in a three-dimensional world."

Dr. McLaughlin-Wrage was known for an insatiable medical curiosity, a loud and frequent laugh and her love of high-adrenaline pursuits.

She had hugged steep hillsides on a mountain bike, driven a stock car around Daytona International Speedway and spent vacations hiking or skydiving in spots around the country.

At home, the local product remained rooted to her practice day and night — though she sometimes rode a Harley on her rounds to local hospitals.

Patients called her Elaine or T. Elaine. Many had been going to her for decades and had children who had also grown up with her as their family physician.

"She was closer in many ways than a lot of close friends," said Marilyn Brown, a patient of 35 years. "She knew everything about your family, everything about your health and everything about your life."

After she broke her pelvis in a skydiving accident several years ago, her patients came to see her at home while she recovered. She wrote their prescriptions, lanced their boils and tended their wounds from her bed.

Teresa Elaine McLaughlin was born in Tampa, the daughter of a female chemist and a lawyer. She graduated from Boca Ciega High in St. Petersburg, then the University of South Florida and its medical school.

She became one of the first physicians at Suncoast Medical Clinic, where she was a mainstay for about 30 years.

In 1984 she married Wrage, a Gulfport firefighter and EMT who later became an agent with the federal Homeland Security Investigations.

In recent years, Dr. McLaughlin-Wrage had started to sketch out a future after her practice, perhaps by volunteering with Doctors Without Borders. One way or another, she would continue to practice medicine, her family said.

And skydive.

On Sunday, she read a medical journal article about Lyme disease on the way to Skydive City while her husband drove. In the afternoon, she chatted with other skydivers as the plane climbed. As they neared 14,000 feet, there were fist bumps and high fives all around.

About 2:30 p.m., she and her husband jumped.

At about 4,000 feet, they kissed, then separated and glided apart. When Wrage last saw his wife, her parachute was beginning to open.

Others with a better view later told Wrage that they had seen a problem.

"It opened, and she was in a violent spin," he said. Dr. McLaughlin-Wrage performed what is called a cutaway, releasing the main parachute and deploying a reserve.

"The problem is, what the witnesses said is they saw her do the correct procedure, but she was too low," he said. "The main parachute fell off, the reserve came out just like it was supposed to. But it didn't have enough time to properly inflate and slow her down enough."

She died from trauma sustained in the accident, according to the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office. The Zephyrhills Police Department is investigating the death, assisted by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The family of Dr. McLaughlin-Wrage, though stunned and saddened by her death, has found at least one thread of consolation.

"While no one wants to pass away," her husband said, "Elaine would have loved to have gone like this. She died doing something that she absolutely loved."

Times staff writer Erin Sullivan contributed to this report. Andrew Meacham can be reached at or (727) 892-2248.


Dr. Teresa Elaine McLaughlin-Wrage

Born: July 22, 1951

Died: Jan. 1, 2012

Survivors: husband, Edward Wrage; stepdaughters, Sara Skelton and Jesi Wrage; stepson, Luke Wrage; brother, Dr. Charles McLaughlin; sisters, Billie Manheimer and Marla McLaughlin; mother, Nina Milton; stepmother, Martha McLaughlin.

Memorial gathering: 1 to 3 p.m. today; Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home, 7820 38th Ave. N.

Pinellas doctor was devoted to her patients and found adventure in skydiving 01/03/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 4, 2012 12:21pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Suspect arrested in fatal shooting of Virginia special agent


    RICHMOND, Va. — A Virginia State Police special agent died Saturday after being shot by a man sitting in a car in Richmond, police said. The shooting suspect fled on foot, sparking an overnight manhunt that ended with the man's arrest about an hour after the agent's death.

    This image provided by the Virginia State Police shows law enforcement investigating the scene of a shooting early Saturday in Richmond, Va.   Special Agent Michael T. Walter, a Virginia State Police special agent died Saturday after being shot by a man sitting in a car in Richmond, police said. The shooting suspect fled on foot, sparking an overnight manhunt that ended with the man's arrest about an hour after the agent's death. Virginia State Police said in an emailed statement that Travis A. Ball of Richmond is being held without bond on charges that include malicious wounding and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. (Virginia State Police via AP)
  2. Mayor Rick Kriseman says St. Petersburg mayoral election is about going forward, not back


    ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman christened his campaign office Friday evening by telling his supporters that the mayoral election was about moving forward, not backward.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman says mayoral election is about inclusiveness Friday at campaign office rally
  3. Forecast: Lots of sunshine, low humidity to start Memorial Day weekend


    The start of your long Memorial Day weekend is all sunshine this Saturday, according to WTSP 10Weather meteorologist Rick Kearbey.

    WTSP seven-day forecast on May 27, 2017.
  4. For starters: Rays at Twins, looking for another with Odorizzi starting


    UPDATE, 12:45: Cash said Robertson was taking better swings Friday and so he wanted to move him up today, liking the idea of having three straight right-handers vs. a LHP they don't know much about. ... Souza was still smiling this morning about his failed dive attempt last night, and the reaction it got. .. The …

  5. Global computer outage grounds British flights


    LONDON — British Airways canceled all flights from London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports Saturday as a global IT failure caused severe disruption for travelers on a busy holiday weekend.

    British Airways planes are parked at Heathrow Airport in January. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, file)