ORLANDO, Fla. – The frantic moments after a 14-year-old boy fell to his death from the Orlando Free Fall ride at ICON Park late Thursday night were all caught on camera.
“You guys checked him?” one worker from Orlando Free Fall could be heard saying. “The light was on,” the co-worker responded. “You sure you checked him?” another employee said.
Just minutes earlier, before the ride started, a younger woman strapped into the ride sitting just one group over from where victim Tyre Sampson was sitting, could be heard on video questioning the ride’s harness system.
“Why doesn’t this have like the little clippy clip? Like the seatbelt?” the girl said. “The seatbelt? There ain’t any,” one of the ride operators told the girl.
Friday afternoon, an inspector with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, the state agency that oversees the safety of amusement rides, spent a good part of the afternoon taking a look at the attraction. He paid particular attention to seat one, where it appears Sampson was sitting before falling to his death.
At one point, the inspector got in the seat, maneuvered the safety equipment, seemingly taking measurements of the gap at the bottom. He later got out of the seat and tugged with a good amount of weight against the harness system to see if it would budge.
An inspector with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, the state agency that oversees the safety of amusement rides, looks over the Orlando Free Fall drop tower ride at Orlando ICON Park.
FOX 35 News spoke to John Stine with the Sling Shot Group of companies that owns the Orlando Free Fall.
“We are working with OCSO and other organizations to figure out what happened,” Stine said. “We have a number of items in place to ensure everything is operating fine. That’s why we’re going to be engaged in this investigation”
Sheriff John Mina told reporters that his deputies did the initial investigation.
“Our role in this situation is to determine whether this was an accident or intentional act, and this does appear to be just a terrible tragedy,” Sheriff Mina said.
The inspector from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs did not speak to reporters before leaving the property. It’s unclear how long this investigation will take.
Did teen’s size play factor in tragic fall off Orlando Free Fall?
Tyre’s father says his son began panicking when the ride started – telling friends something didn’t feel right. He now wonders if his son should have been allowed to get on Free Fall at ICON Park in the first place.
“My son is 6 feet, 5 inches, 340 pounds,” Yarnell Sampson said.
He said the 14-year-old who had aspirations to make it to the NFL had been turned away from other rides because of his size.
“This one particular ride decided, ‘We can take you! Come on, get on!’ No one else allowed him to get on the ride, so I’m wondering what happened between now and then that made them say, ‘Come on, get this ride!’” Sampson.
Amusement ride safety consultant Ken Martin said that could be part of the investigation.
“Just remember, when you come down, that’s a negative g-force versus a positive g-force when you’re held into the seat. That shoulder harness is there to keep you from coming out of that ride,” Martin explained.
He said a lot of rides have weight limits but no one with Free Fall has answered our questions about what the rules were to get on.
Riders are held in place with the shoulder harness and no additional belt.
“That’s one of the things that I’m curious in this particular ride – we have a large individual and how far did he click his harness down,” Martin said.
Dollywood has a drop ride built by the same manufacturer as Free Fall. The park said in a rider safety document that guests of a larger stature may not be eligible to ride due to the nature of the restraint system.
“This should never happen to anyone’s child ever again,” Sampson said.
ICON Park statement on death of Tyre Sampson
ICON Park released a statement late Friday night on the death of Tyre Sampson.
“Our heartfelt thoughts are with his family and friends,” the Orlando attraction tweeted. “ICON Park is committed to being a place where families can spend quality time together in a safe and fun space.
ICON Park said it is cooperating with law enforcement and state regulators regarding the tenant which owns and operates the Orlando Free Fall ride.
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