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Safety features were altered on Orlando Free Fall ride where teen died, report says

by Samantha Davis-Friedman

During a press conference today, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) Commissioner Nikki Fried announced a report by Quest Engineering & Failure Analysis, Inc. has concluded manual adjustments were made to the Orlando Free Fall drop tower attraction at Icon Park which compromised the ride’s safety.

Orlando Free Fall drop tower attraction at Icon Park

FDACS hired Quest to assist in the investigation into the tragic accident that resulted in the death on March 24, 2022, of Tyre Sampson, a 14-year-old boy from St. Louis, who fell out of his seat on the ride. As a result of the report’s findings – and while FDACS  continues to investigate other potential contributing factors that may have played a role in this incident – Orlando FreeFall will remain closed indefinitely.

“This report answers the question of what mechanically took place as our investigation now enters its next phase of how and why it occurred, as we look towards potential penalties along with any potential changes of rules and regulations needed,” Commissioner Fried said. “While the initial phase of our investigation is complete, we are far from done uncovering all of the facts and factors […] that are needed to inform the next steps. As soon as the full investigation is complete, we will immediately make changes to our rules if needed under our existing authorities as well as pursue statutory changes with our legislative partners if necessary to help prevent future tragedies.”

Orlando FreeFall - Tyre Sampson memorial
A memorial to Tyre Sampson outside the ride the week after the accident.

Commissioner Field also announced the report revealed manual adjustments had been made to the sensor for two of the ride’s seats – specifically seats one and two – that allowed the harness restraint opening to be almost double the normal restraint opening range (presumably to accommodate riders who exceeded the 250-pound manufacturer’s weight guideline). These adjustments allowed the safety lights to illuminate, which improperly satisfied the ride’s electronic safety mechanisms and allowed the ride to operate, even though Tyre Sampson was not safely secured in his seat.

Permanent amusement rides are subject to semi-annual inspections. FDACS inspected the Orlando Free Fall at Icon Park on Dec. 20, 2021. At that time, no deficiencies were noted, but no additional inspections were conducted because the ride hadn’t yet reached the six-month mark. During the press conference, Florida Representative Geraldine Thompson said she was very disturbed when she learned adjustments had been made, and she said requirements need to be strengthened to trigger another inspection whenever any adjustment is made to a ride.

“We’ve got to make sure that all ride operators follow the law and follow the rules,” Representative Thompson said. “Unfortunately, it sometimes takes something like this to be the wake-up call, and so this is the tipping point that now requires us to strengthen these laws and give the department more responsibility and more authority in terms of oversight.”

In response to the report, Icon Park issued this official statement:

“We are deeply troubled that the preliminary findings of the State’s investigation indicate a sensor on the Orlando FreeFall attraction, which is owned and operated by the SlingShot Group, had been mis-adjusted after the sensor was originally secured in place. Icon Park is committed to providing a safe, fun experience for families. We will continue to support the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services with their ongoing investigation.”

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