Ride safety expert says teen’s death on Florida ride likely result of operator error

Just three months in operation, the Orlando Free Fall sits idle while people pay respects to 14-year-old Tyre Sampson at a growing memorial at the foot of the 430-foot tall tower.

SEE MORE, ORIGINAL NOTE: https://www.wcvb.com/article/icon-park-teen-killed-operator/39573560

He was on spring break from St. Louis.

Sampson was riding Free Fall with friends Thursday night when the ride ascended, then dropped, and he fell out of his harness to his death.

ICON Park, which owns the property, ordered SlingShot Group to suspend operations on the Free Fall and SlingShot rides Monday afternoon until further notice.

The state of Florida released key records Monday that shed more light on safety aboard the Free Fall.

On page 58 of the operator’s manual for this ride, the maximum weight is listed as less than 287 pounds.

An attorney for the boy’s family told WESH the boy was well over 300 pounds and, according to the manual, should not have been on that ride.

So far, sister station WESH has seen signs near the Free Fall that indicate a minimum height but not a maximum weight.

The newly-obtained state documents also show who was operating the ride.

That person, according to these documents, was trained on the ride on Feb. 21.

«It’s clear to anybody, not just ride safety engineers, that that boy was not harnessed properly,» Bill Kitchen, president of U.S. Thrill Rides, said.

U.S. Thrill Rides is an entertainment design and consulting company in Orlando that designs more than 200 rides.

Kitchen reviewed video of the minutes leading up to the fatal fall, and, in his expert opinion, he says ride operators failed to ensure the boy was secured.

«Not to ask him to step off or at least get him properly restrained was, it’s unforgivable. I can’t understand it,» Kitchen said.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services inspected the seat and drop tower Friday but declined to comment.

WESH obtained the lone state inspection report from Dec. 20. It describes the «drop tower» as a «super ride» originally under the name «Orlando Eagle Drop.»

At that time, it showed no safety «deficiencies.»

Florida 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. WESH is seeking those records.

The Free Fall is made by the Austrian company, «Funtime» under the name «Skyfall.» But the company’s website says the seating system comes from a German company called Gerstlauer.

A sister ride called «Drop Line,» made by Funtime was closed by Dollywood until further notice. That ride in Tennessee has metal shoulder restraints, that look different from Free Fall.

Unlike the Orlando ride, which tilts forward at the top before descending, the Dollywood ride keeps them upright throughout.

ICON Park orders suspension of SlingShot Group rides

On Monday, ICON Park says it ordered SlingShot Group, who owns the Orlando Free Fall, to shut down operation of both that ride and Orlando SlingShot, effective immediately, until they are proven safe.

Both rides shut down last Thursday.

A statement from ICON Park’s PR firm says the suspension would take effect immediately and continue until a thorough investigation by the appropriate authorities has been completed and all parties are satisfied that the rides are safe for the public.

«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,» the company said in a statement Monday.

ICON Park said it would continue to cooperate with the ongoing investigations into the Orlando Free Fall.

«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,» according to ICON Park.