Two seats on Florida drop tower ride linked to teen’s death had been ‘misadjusted,’ officials say

Apr 19, 2022, 6:17 AM | Updated: Jun 8, 2022, 3:16 pm
A makeshift memorial for Tyre Sampson is seen outside the Orlando Free Fall ride. (Phelan M. Ebenha...
A makeshift memorial for Tyre Sampson is seen outside the Orlando Free Fall ride. (Phelan M. Ebenhack via AP)
(Phelan M. Ebenhack via AP)

(CNN) — Two seats on an Orlando, Florida, amusement park ride, including that of a 14-year-old boy who fell to his death from the ride last month, had been manually adjusted, a forensic engineering firm hired to investigate the incident found.

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried and State Rep. Geraldine Thompson presented the firm’s findings during a news update Monday.

The operator of the FreeFall drop tower made manual adjustments to two seats on the ride “presumably, to allow for larger riders, which should not have happened based on the manufacturer’s guidelines,” said Thompson.

“All protocols, procedures and safety measures provided to us by the manufacturer of the ride were followed. 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 the ride’s operator, Orlando Slingshot, said in a statement.

“Seat 1’s harness proximity sensor was manually loosened, adjusted and tightened to allow a restraint opening of near 7 inches,” about 4 inches more than the normal opening range for the restraints, according to the report produced by Quest Engineering & Failure Analysis, Inc.

Its engineers went to the site of the accident to investigate in early April.

The opening on the restraint may have grown to as much as 10 inches with force, according to the report.

The FreeFall drop tower manufacturer’s guideline puts a rider’s weight limit at 250 pounds, Thomson said; Tyre Sampson weighed approximately 340 pounds, his family told CNN.

The FreeFall takes riders to the top of a 430-foot tower, tilts them face to the ground, and falls at speeds of up to 75 mph, the ICON Park’s website says. Operators call it the world’s tallest free-standing drop tower, the sheriff’s office said.

The ride passed a safety inspection in December before it was allowed to open, according to a safety inspection report obtained by CNN.

The document from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services noted the drop tower passed inspection on December 20, 2021. No deficiencies were listed in the report.

The report did not indicate who adjusted the ride, but found the adjustments were made after the harness sensors of the ride “were initially secured in place.”

Fried said now that they know what mechanically took place, they will next seek to find out how and why, before they assess what penalties may come.

The operator’s attorney said Orlando Slingshot has “fully cooperated with the State during the initial phase of its investigation, and we will continue to do so until it has officially concluded.

The ride has been closed since Sampson’s death, and it will remain closed “indefinitely,” Fried said Monday.

ICON Park, where the drop tower ride is located, said it is “deeply troubled” by the report.

“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,” the park said in a statement.

“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,” the statement read.

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Two seats on Florida drop tower ride linked to teen’s death had been ‘misadjusted,’ officials say