An iconic attraction is scheduled to be dismantled and removed, beginning next week, following the tragic death of a minor aboard the attraction.
When Walt Disney first chose to build a second theme park resort, giving the Disneyland Resort in California a sister park, he cut no corners–beginning with how he chose the location for his second park. Walt looked at information about where Guests of Disneyland actually lived, and he discovered that less than 2% of them hailed from east of the Mississippi River. So he decided on the east coast, ultimately buying up thousands of acres of swamp land in central Florida near a not-so-well-known town called Orlando.
Five years after his unexpected passing, the Walt Disney World Resort opened, and the rest is history–and a history full of theme park after theme park after theme park opening in the Orlando area, each one serving to make Orlando the busy, vibrant, tourists-everywhere “City Beautiful” that it is today.
SeaWorld Orlando opened in 1973. Universal Studios opened in June 1990, followed by a second park–Universal’s Islands of Adventure–in 1999. Discovery Cove Orlando opened in 2000, and Legoland Florida opened in 2011. Then, in May 2015, ICON Park opened along Orlando’s famed “I-Drive” (International Drive).
ICON Park is a modern take on the decades-old idea of an amusement park. It features more than 50 attractions, including The Wheel at ICON Park, a 400-foot-tall Ferris wheel, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum Orlando, Orlando Starflyer, a 450-foot tall swing ride, SEA LIFE Aquarium Orlando, Museum of Illusions Orlando, In The Game-7D Motion Theater, Carousel on the Promenade at ICON Park, the Pearl Express Train, Max Action Arena entertainment center, and more. But the park’s newest and most popular ride is no more.
The Orlando FreeFall opened to the public in December 2021. The massive 430-foot tall drop tower ride at ICON Park took guests seated in a ring high above the city of Orlando, offering them expansive vistas of the surrounding areas before dropping them in a free-fall before giant brakes stopped the ring just before it reached the ground. But in March 2022, after operating for less than three months, a 14-year-old teen fell to his death from the attraction.
Last spring, on March 24, paramedics were dispatched to ICON Park following numerous 911 calls about someone who had fallen from the ring of the attraction while it was hundreds of feet in the air. First responders arrived to find 14-year-old Tyre Sampson unresponsive. He was pronounced deceased at a local hospital shortly thereafter.
The attraction has not been in operation since that night, as investigations into the accident took months to complete. Since his passing, Sampson’s mother, Nekia Dodd, has pushed for the Orlando FreeFall drop tower attraction to be dismantled, and her efforts have paid off.
Dodd is relieved to learn that the attraction will be torn down, beginning next week, and will be removed from ICON Park before the anniversary of her son’s death on March 24, 2023. But Ms. Dodd says she hopes its removal “does not remove the memory of this tragedy.”
“Ms. Dodd remains focused on real change in the oversight and operation of thrill rides and accountability by any party involved in failing to keep theme park guests safe,” Dodd’s attorney Michael Haggard said. “It is a part of Tyre’s legacy, a legacy that can never be stripped down.”
Trevor Arnold, an attorney for the ride operator, Orlando Slingshot, says the company has hired amusement park business Ride Entertainment to oversee and coordinate the dismantling and removal of the Orlando FreeFall ride. Arnold says a crane will arrive in only days to begin the deconstruction.
“That activity is expected to continue into the following week because of the large size of the ride,” Arnold said in a statement. “We hope to have the ride fully deconstructed before the anniversary of Tyre Sampson’s tragic death, and we will continue to work in that direction and give timeline updates as they are available.”
Sampson died after he slipped through the restraint on the ride, according to an investigation by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs (FDACS), a claim that Orlando Slingshot originally denied. The operator settled with FDACS in February 2023, paying a $250,000 fine and surrendering to a permanent ban on operating the attraction in the future.