Here’s what we know about Orlando ride, company being investigated in 14-year-old’s death

14-year-old died after falling from ICON Park ride Thursday night

ORLANDO, Fla. – News 6 took a closer look into the Orlando Free Fall and the company that operates it Friday after a 14-year-old fell to his death from the ICON Park attraction late Thursday.

Deputies said the teen, later identified as Tyre Sampson, a teen visiting from Missouri for spring break, was taken to a hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

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The fatal fall resulted in an investigation, launched by state inspectors from the Florida Department of Agriculture. In the mean time, a representative with the SlingShot Group said the ride will be closed indefinitely.

Here’s what we know so far.

Manufacturer and owner/operator of the rides

The idea for drop tower was not born here in Orlando.

According to a press release from ICON Park, Orlando Free Fall was dreamed up by an overseas company called Funtime.

According to Funtime’s website, the original ride was supposed to be portable, only hold 25 riders and reach roughly 260 feet high.

At ICON Park, Orlando Free Fall is 65% taller (at 430 feet high), holds 40 riders (not 25) and is not portable.

News 6 reached out to both of Funtime’s offices in Australia and Austria, but we did not get a response.

Funtime rides are operated all over Florida, not just at ICON Park, through a company called the Slingshot Group of Companies.

A spokesperson for the Slingshot Group confirmed that all three of their rides at ICON Drive (Orlando Free Fall, Orlando Slingshot, and StarFlyer) are currently not operating.

According to FDACS, the owner/operator of any amusement park ride must inspect the ride each day prior to opening it up to the public.

News 6 reached out to the CEO of ICON Park, but he did not respond to our requests for comment.

Who inspects them?

In Florida—a land known for theme park attractions—amusement ride safety, permitting and accident inspections fall on the shoulders of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS).

Rides are inspected when they are first built and whenever a temporary ride moves to a new location. Permanent rides, like Orlando Free Fall, get inspected twice each year.

These rules only apply, however, to smaller theme parks, or those that employ 1,000 people or less.

Parks that employ more than 1,000 people, like Disney World, Universal Studios, and SeaWorld, are exempt from state oversight and FDACS inspections.

Instead, larger parks are allowed to inspect their own rides and report their findings to the state.

FDACS investigation

Investigators with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) closed Orlando Free Fall so they can figure out just how a teen might have fallen from the ride to his death.

This is according to records and statements release by FDACS Friday afternoon, which show both the drop tower and slingshot “super rides” were inspected, approved and permitted Dec. 20, 2021, the same day they opened.

Because they are permanent rides, they weren’t due for another inspection until June.

This is not the first death to happen at ICON Park. Just last year, a 21-year-old man fell to his death while conducting a safety check at StarFlyer, a ride owned and operated by the Slingshot Group of Companies, the same owner of Orlando Free Fall.

The StarFlyer accident was deemed work-related, however, and was investigated by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).

“Our harnesses have to lock in, and they have to lock or else the ride will not operate, so this is what we are looking into,” said John Stein, a spokesman for the Slingshot Group.


About the Author:

Award-winning investigative reporter Merris Badcock joined the News 6 team in October 2020. Merris is the recipient of a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award, a Suncoast Regional Emmy Award, four Suncoast Emmy Regional nominations, and two first-place Florida Association of Broadcast Journalists’ Awards.