NO SEATBELTS: Private Ride Safety expert reveals the reason a teen fell from drop tower ride and died

tyre sampson orlando freefall
Credit: Click Orlando/Canva Creation

A prominent ride 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 thrill ride at an Orlando theme park.

Tyre Sampson was visiting central Florida from St. Louis, Missouri over spring break. He and his friends went to Orlando’s ICON Park on Thursday evening and boarded the amusement park’s newest attraction–a drop tower ride that opened in December 2021 called Orlando FreeFall.

14-year-old boy killed in fall from ICON Park's Orlando Free Fall ride,  deputies say - Orlando Sentinel

Credit: The Orlando Sentinel

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, then drops them back to the ground at 70 to 75 miles per hour.

On Thursday evening, Tyre Sampson and his friends were on the Orlando FreeFall drop tower ride when the unthinkable happened. According to witnesses at ICON Park that evening, as the ride began to drop riders from a height of over 400 feet, Sampson fell from his seat to the ground below. Immediately, witnesses began placing 911 calls for emergency assistance.

Tyre Sampson was transported to the hospital where he succumbed to injuries sustained from his fall from the drop tower attraction at ICON Park.

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Orlando’s ICON Park/Credit: My News 13

On Friday, state investigators from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, 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 ride 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 Orlando FreeFall drop tower ride states a maximum weight of fewer than 287 pounds. Though Tyre Sampson 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 Tyre Sampson‘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 ride at the time of Tyre Sampson‘s fall. According to those documents, the amusement ride operator at ICON Park was trained on February 21.

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Bill Kitchen, U.S. Thrill Rides (center)/Credit: BizJournals

And Bill Kitchen, President of U. S. Thrill Rides–a design and consulting firm that designs more than 200 kinds of amusement ride attractions–says Sampson’s fall and resulting death were likely caused by operator error.

“It’s clear to anybody, not just ride 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 fall from the Orlando FreeFall, and it’s his expert opinion that ride operators erred, as they failed to ensure the teen was secured in his seat before the ride 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.”

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Orlando Shopping ICON Park - International Drive Orlando

Credit: International Drive Orlando

The Orlando FreeFall attraction opened in December 2021. It was inspected by the state before opening to visitors. The inspection report from December notates that the ride is a “drop tower.” The tower ride is also listed as a “super ride” 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 ride‘s owner, Slingshot Group:

“State law requires the ride‘s owner, Slingshot Group, to have an annual permit, insurance, two annual state inspections, and an annual safety test, preferably conducted by a professional ride engineer.

In addition to those requirements, ride operators are required to provide proof of employee training.”

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Orlando Slingshot Ride/Credit: FOX 35 Orlando

On Monday, ICON Park ordered the suspension of operations of a neighboring ride at the amusement park–one that is also owned by Slingshot Group–the Orlando SlingShot. Public relations for the amusement park issued a statement related to the suspension:

“In the interests of public safety, ICON Park demands that the SlingShot Group suspend not only the operation of Orlando FreeFall but also the operation of Orlando SlingShot, 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, ICON Park continues to cooperate with the ongoing investigations into the Orlando FreeFall incident that led to Tyre Sampson‘s fall and tragic passing.

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“We continue to grieve the passing of Tyre Sampson and our thoughts are with his family and friends. This was the saddest day in the history of ICON Park and we’re working hard to make sure this never happens again,” reads a statement from the Orlando theme park on International Drive.

Our deepest sympathy continues toward Tyre Sampson‘s parents, his family, his friends, and all those affected by this terrible tragedy.

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!