A prominent safety expert has weighed in on the terrible tragedy that occurred last week when a 14-year-old boy fell to his death from a popular at an Orlando theme park.
was visiting from St. Louis, Missouri over spring break. He and his friends went to Orlando’s on Thursday evening and boarded the amusement park’s newest attraction–a that opened in December 2021 called .
The accommodates up to 30 at a time. are seated in a ring that moves up a tall tower to a height of more than 400 feet, then drops them back to the ground at 70 to 75 miles per hour.
On Thursday evening, Sampson fell from his seat to the ground below. Immediately, witnesses began placing 911 calls for emergency assistance. and his friends were on the when the unthinkable happened. According to witnesses at that evening, as the began to drop from a height of over 400 feet,
was transported to the hospital where he succumbed to injuries sustained from his from the attraction at .
On Friday, state investigators from the , the entity responsible for the inspection of amusement rides in Florida for theme park operators who employ fewer than 1,000 employees, arrived to begin their investigation of the of Agriculture and Consumer Services itself.
The investigation is still ongoing, but the team of investigators has made a few preliminary discoveries so far.
According to WESH Channel 6, page 58 of the operator’s manual for the states a maximum weight of fewer than 287 pounds. Though was only a 14-year-old, he already stood six feet, five inches tall and weighed well over 300 pounds.
“This young man, he was athletic and he was big,” said Bob Hilliard, an attorney from Texas who is representing ‘s mother, Nekia Dodd. “He had no way of knowing. “This is going to be an issue of a lack of supervision and lack of training. A straight-up negligence case.”
WESH Channel 6 also reports that documents only recently obtained show which employee was operating the at the time of ‘s . According to those documents, the operator at was trained on February 21.
And Bill Kitchen, President of U. S. Thrill Rides–a design and consulting firm that designs more than 200 kinds of attractions–says Sampson’s and resulting death were likely caused by operator error.
“It’s clear to anybody, not just safety engineers, that that boy was not harnessed properly,” Kitchen explained.
U.S. Thrill Rides is an entertainment design and consulting company in Orlando that designs more than 200 rides. Kitchen reviewed video taken in the moments leading up to the from the , and it’s his expert opinion that operators erred, as they failed to ensure the teen was secured in his seat before the began.
“Not to ask him to step off or at least get him properly restrained was, it’s unforgivable,” Kitchen said. “I can’t understand it.”
The attraction opened in December 2021. It was inspected by the state before opening to visitors. The inspection report from December notates that the is a “ .” The is also listed as a “super ” and was originally named “Orlando Eagle Drop.” At the time of the inspection, the state found no deficiencies, per the inspection report, and the attraction wasn’t due for another inspection until June 2022.
According to a report from Click Orlando, the Orlando FreeFall drop tower ride has no seatbelts; there are only harnesses that fit over the shoulders and head of each rider.
Per WESH Channel 6, the State of Florida has specific requirements for the ‘s owner, Slingshot Group:
“State law requires the ‘s owner, Slingshot Group, to have an annual permit, insurance, two annual state inspections, and an annual safety test, preferably conducted by a professional engineer.
In addition to those requirements, operators are required to provide proof of employee training.”
On Monday, ordered the suspension of operations of a at the amusement park–one that is also owned by Slingshot Group–the . Public relations for the amusement park issued a statement related to the suspension:
“In the interests of public safety, demands that the SlingShot Group suspend not only the operation of but also the operation of , effective immediately, continuing until such time as a thorough investigation by the appropriate authorities has been completed and all parties are satisfied that the rides are safe for the public.”
At this time, continues to cooperate with the ongoing investigations into the incident that led to ‘s and tragic passing.
“We continue to grieve the passing of and our thoughts are with his family and friends. This was the saddest day in the history of and we’re working hard to make sure this never happens again,” reads a statement from the Orlando theme park on .
Our deepest sympathy continues toward‘s parents, his family, his friends, and all those affected by this terrible tragedy.