A teenager died Thursday evening after falling from a drop tower amusement park ride at an Orlando theme park on International Drive.
This week was spring break for 14-year-old Tyre Sampson, who had come to Orlando from Missouri and was visiting the ICON Park theme park with friends. Late in the evening on March 24, Sampson and his friends took their seats aboard the new Orlando FreeFall attraction at ICON Park and prepared for the rise to a height of more than 400 feet and the thrilling freefall drop that would follow.
Shortly after 11:00 p.m., 911 calls began to come in to dispatchers, asking for emergency help after someone had fallen from the attraction. That someone was 14-year-old Sampson. The young man was transported to the hospital where he succumbed to his injuries, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
According to CNN, Sampson was visiting Orlando from his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, with his football team.
“He was a very good young man,” the boy’s father, Yarnell Sampson said of his son. “He was a big teddy bear, a gentle giant.”
Video from that evening appears to show a person falling from the attraction seat about 5 seconds into the drop as the ring of riders around the tower free-falls toward the ground. Mr. Sampson told CNN he saw the video. “My life stopped,” he said.
“At first we thought it was a piece of the ride or whatever until we got a little closer, and it was a person laying on the ground,” said Montrey Williams, who said he witnessed the tragedy. “Everyone was just panicking and screaming.”
“I want to know what really happened,” the young boy’s father said. “You know what, you know, why a 14-year-old young man with a bright future has been taken away from us.”
Friday morning, investigators from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs arrived to begin their investigation into the fall that led to Sampson’s death, closing the attraction until further notice. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office is conducting an investigation as well to determine whether the fall was an accident or if intentional actions led to the fall.
On Friday during a press conference, Orange County Sheriff Mina said the fall looks like an accidental and “terrible tragedy.”
The attraction from which Sampson fell, the Orlando FreeFall attraction, is touted by its owners at the Slingshot Group as “the world’s tallest freestanding drop tower.” It stands 430 feet tall and can accommodate 30 riders at a time. The ride was inspected, approved, and permitted on the same day it opened, December 20, 2021, along with two other attractions at Orlando’s ICON Park: the Orlando Slingshot and the Starflyer.
According to Florida law, because the three attractions are permanent, they were not due for another inspection until June 2022. Attractions like these are required to be inspected twice per year, but this only applies to theme parks with fewer than 1,000 employees.
Photos and video taken that evening appears to show a problem with the restraint on the chair in which Sampson was seated for the ride, but this hasn’t been confirmed at this time.
“Our harnesses have to lock in, and they have to lock or else the ride will not operate, so this is what we are looking into,” said John Stine, a spokesman for the Slingshot Group who owns the Orlando FreeFall attraction.
ICON Park posted a statement on its website, responding to the tragedy. It reads:
A tragedy occurred last night at the Orlando FreeFall and our hearts are heavy with sadness.
The owner of the attraction is fully cooperating with authorities and ICON Park is doing everything we can to assist. Statements from the Orlando FreeFall and Orange County Sheriff’s Office are below:
The Orlando FreeFall will be closed pending a full investigation. Other businesses at ICON Park are scheduled to be open during their normal business hours.
On the Orlando ICON Park website, there is also a statement from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, which reads:
“On March 24, 2022, at 11:12 p.m., deputies responded to 8433 International Drive (Orlando Free Fall) for a 911 emergency. Witnesses on scene reported that someone had fallen from the ride. A 14-year-old male was transported to the hospital, where he died from his injuries. This death investigation is in its very early stages. This is all the information we have for release at this time. We will send updates when they become available.”
In addition to these statements, the Slingshot Group also released a statement that is posted on the ICON Park website:
“We are heartbroken with the incident that took the life of one of our guests. We extend our condolences and deepest sympathy to his family and friends. We are working with the Sheriff’s Office and ride officials on a full investigation. The Orlando FreeFall will be closed until further notice.”
Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by this terrible and tragic event.