“Failures on multiple levels”: Several are to blame for teen’s death at Orlando drop tower ride according to expert

Credit: WESH

The safety harness on the seat of a 14-year-old teen who fell to his death at the Orlando FreeFall amusement park ride last week was still locked when the ride ended, according to the official accident report obtained by USA Today.

Boy, 14, Dies After Falling from 'Free Fall' Ride at Orlando's Icon Park

Credit: TODAY

Tyre Sampson fell from the drop tower ride when he and other riders were hundreds of feet above the ground, and according to the preliminary accident report, he fell when magnets on the ride engaged in order to slow down the ride as riders came down the tower toward the ground.

Ken Martin, a Virginia-based independent ride safety inspector and amusement park safety analyst says the operator’s manual for the Orlando FreeFall ride at ICON Park on International Drive in Orlando seems to lay responsibility for the accident that took the life of 14-year-old Tyre Sampson at the feet of both the ride manufacturer and the ride operator at ICON Park.

ICON Park, Orlando area: 14-year-old falls to death from recently opened drop  tower ride - CNN

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“I don’t understand why there are failures on multiple levels,” Martin explained. “Failures at the manufacturer’s level, failure at the owner-operator level.”

Tyre Sampson was in Orlando on spring break from St. Louis, Missouri, and went to ICON Park with friends on Thursday evening. He and his friends boarded the Orlando FreeFall drop tower ride at ICON Park, each one taking a seat on the ride. But only minutes later, Sampson had fallen hundreds of feet, from his seat on the drop tower ride to the ground below. He was transported to the hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

ICON Park‘s Orlando FreeFall drop tower ride had only been open for three months when Tyre Sampson died. It was inspected and opened in December 2021, along with two other thrill rides at the Orlando amusement park.

Sampson’s fall and death resulted in a full-scale investigation by both the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the governing body in Florida which is responsible for the inspection of rides at amusement parks that employ fewer than 1,000 people. (Larger theme parks like Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Studios Orlando, and Sea World Orlando are responsible for the inspection of their own rides and for the reporting of injuries on those rides.)

Tyre Sampson: Child who fell to his death from Orlando ICON park ride  identified | The Independent

Credit: The Independent

On Monday, a ride safety expert shared strong feelings about the cause of Tyre Sampson‘s fall and death. Bill Kitchen, President of U.S. Thrill Rides, says Sampson died as a result of operator error.

But according to the accident report and the latest information from the investigation, Sampson’s death wasn’t only related to the operator’s error. It was also related to a failure of the ride itself.

The ICON Park drop tower ride accommodates up to 30 riders at a time. Riders are seated in a ring that moves up a tall tower to a height of more than 400 feet. The ring then tilts riders forward before dropping them into a free fall toward the ground at a speed of 70 to 75 miles per hour.

World's tallest drop tower, slingshot now open in Orlando

Credit: Click Orlando

The operator’s manual for the Orlando FreeFall ride states a maximum weight for riders, and Sampson was over the weight limit. One page of the manual describes limitations that pertain to “large people,” and warns the operator to “be careful when seeing if large guests fit into the seats.”

The manual further instructs the operator:

“Check that [riders] fit within the contours of the seat and the bracket fits properly. If this is not so, do not let this person ride.”

Ken Martin says no part of this tragedy was the fault of Tyre Sampson himself.

“This young man did nothing wrong,” Martin said. “It’s the owner operator’s responsibility to inform the rider what the requirements are.”

“The most spectacular thing that the industry has done lately is they put sample chairs outside the ride before you get into the queue line,” Martin explained during an interview. “Those model chairs are for you to sit down in and sit to see if you fit. If that chair existed at the entrance, that would be your first level of safety. It didn’t.”

Martin explained that the operator’s manual for the Orlando FreeFall drop tower ride says it would be almost impossible to operate the ride if all of the safety lights on the operator’s computer screen weren’t green. A green light on the Orlando FreeFall ride means that the restraint bars that go over riders’ heads and shoulders are locked down.

He also said that the preliminary accident report indicates that when the ride stopped on Thursday evening, the restraint bar over Tyre Sampson‘s seat was still locked down in place, despite the fact that Sampson was no longer in the seat. The report states the safety harness was “still in a down and locked position when the ride stopped.” It also lists three employees as witnesses.

“The safety bar has multiple positions,” said Martin. “And one of two things happened: the rider was able to lock it in the first position or the rider was able to hold the bar down across his chest.”

According to Martin, Tyre Sampson was too big to ride on the Orlando FreeFall. “A restraint system is not a one-size-fits-all,” he said.

Martin explained that the fact that the bar was down when the ride came to a stop doesn’t necessarily mean that it was engaged and working properly.

“I’ve seen people come out of lap bars that have been locked,” Martin shared.

orlando freefall inspection

Credit: WESH

According to Click Orlando, Ritchie Armstrong, CEO of the Slingshot Group, owner and operator of the Orlando FreeFall ride and the Orlando Slingshot ride at ICON Park, issued a statement on Tuesday. It reads:

“We are heartbroken by the loss of Tyre Sampson and absolutely devastated for his family and loved ones. We have suspended the operations of the Free Fall ride and the Slingshot ride at Icon Park. We are fully cooperating with the authorities at the state and local levels who are investigating this tragic incident. We plan on providing additional information in the coming days, as we learn more.”

Teen dies after fall from drop tower ride at Orlando's ICON PARK,  authorities say

Credit: FOX35 Orlando

Riders and safety experts alike have questioned the absence of a secondary restraint, such as a safety belt. Ken Martin said that such secondary restraints are usually a standard component in similar rides. He said a secondary restraint could have been life-saving for Tyre Sampson.

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!