Florida Amusement Ride Operator's Mistake Led To Teen's Deadly Plunge, Officials Say

A forensic analysis determined “misadjustments” allowed the teen to slip off the ride at Orlando's ICON Park last month, a state official said.

Improper adjustments to a safety feature allowed a 14-year-old boy to fall from a Florida amusement park drop-tower ride and plunge to his death last month, state officials said Monday.

Safety sensors on two seats on the FreeFall ride at Orlando’s ICON Park had been “manually adjusted,” allowing Tyre Sampson, 14, of St. Louis, Missouri, to slip from his harness and fall to his death on March 24, Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried said.

The FreeFall rockets riders to the top of a 430-foot tower before tilting them face-down, then plummeting toward the ground at up to 75 mph.

Icon Park in Orlando, Florida. (Photo credit: Icon Park)
Icon Park in Orlando, Florida. (Photo credit: Icon Park)
Icon Park

The ride operator made manual adjustments to seat sensors, “presumably, to allow for larger riders, which should not have happened based on the manufacturer’s guidelines,” state Rep. Geraldine Thompson (D) said at a news conference with Fried.

Fried added that the adjustments rendered the ride “unsafe.”

“Seat 1′s harness proximity sensor was manually loosened, adjusted and tightened to allow a restraint opening of near 7 inches,” which is about 4 inches more than the normal opening range, according to a forensic engineering report prepared by Quest Engineering & Failure Analysis.

“These misadjustments allowed the safety lights to illuminate, improperly satisfying the ride’s electronic safety mechanisms that allowed the ride to operate, even though Mr. Sampson was not properly secured in the seat,” Fried said.

The ride’s maximum rider weight is around 285 pounds. Sampson weighed over 300 pounds, his family told CNN.

Signs displayed a maximum height for FreeFall, but didn’t show a weight limit, according to local TV station WESH.

Fried said the investigation will continue looking at other factors that may have contributed to the fatality.

The ride operator, Orlando Slingshot, maintained it followed “all protocols, procedures and safety measures provided to us by the manufacturer of the ride.”

“Today’s report suggests a full review of the ride’s design, safety, operation, restraint mechanisms and history ― which of course we welcome,” Trevor Arnold, an attorney for Orlando Slingshot, said in a statement.

The FreeFall, which stands higher than the Statue of Liberty, claimed to be the world’s tallest free-standing drop tower.

The ride was closed indefinitely after Sampson’s death.

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