New records show Orlando FreeFall has weight limit as state continues to investigate teen’s death

14-year-old fell to his death from ICON Park attraction on March 24

ORLANDO, Fla. – State investigators released nearly 200 pages of records Monday evening, detailing exactly how attendants were supposed to operate Orlando FreeFall, an attraction under intense scrutiny after a 14-year-old fell to his death from the ride Thursday evening.

Tyre Sampson, a teen visiting from Missouri, fell from his seat during the ICON Park ride’s free fall simulation and died, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

It’s an incident which was caught on video that has since gone viral.

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Now, both the overseas company credited with creating and manufacturing the ride and its U.S.-based owner and operator are the subject of scrutiny as the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) investigates the ride.

According to a manual produced by the manufacturer of the ride, Funtime Thrill Rides, the maximum weight allowance for Orlando FreeFall is listed as 130 kilograms, or 286 pounds.

Previously, Sampson’s youth football coach, AJ Jones of Bad Boyz Football, told News 6 Sampson weighed 320 pounds at the time of his death.

Representatives for Funtime Thrill Rides, which has offices in Austria and Australia and has also manufactured other popular Central Florida amusement rides, including the Orlando Slingshot and StarFlyer, have not returned any requests for comment since Sampson’s death last Thursday evening.

Previously, John Stine, the director of marketing and sales for the Slingshot Group of Companies, the owner and operator of Funtime Thrill Rides in Florida, told News 6 there was a height requirement for Orlando FreeFall.

“We have a size restriction,” Stein said. “You have to be 50 inches or taller, and you have to be able to fit in the seat, and so there is really no weight restriction unless you cannot fit in the seat. So this is how we operate, and then the harness blocks you in, and we operate the ride.”

The manual also describes “specific limitations for large people.”

“Be careful when seeing if large guests fit into the seats,” the manual reads. “Check that they fit within the contours of the seat and the bracket fits properly. If this is not so, do not let this person ride.”

Ken Martin, a Virginia-based private ride safety inspector who has over 25 years of experience and has served as an expert witness in several ride accident cases, said the restraint was not properly secured.

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“I do not care how athletic a person is, or how strong they are. There is no way a person who weighs that amount subjected to -2 G’s can hold themselves in the ride,” Martin said. “I know and have seen pictures of the ride that indicate there are no seat belts on the ride, which would classify as one redundant safety system.”

New records released by the FDACS show that the General Manager of Funtime Thrill Rides, Hannes Lackner, advocated for no seat belts on Orlando FreeFall.

“The seat and shoulder restraint system…has 2 independent locking devices, and the shoulder restraints are monitored. It is no need for an extra safety or seat belt because the seat and restrain system fulfill more than the requirements,” Lackner wrote in a letter attached to the ride’s user manual.

According to the ride’s user manual, attendants are also required to test the restraints on individual seats so that each seat is checked twice in a 30-day period.

In the viral video of Sampson’s death, attendants can be heard asking whether or not a light was checked.

“Didn’t you check it?” one asks.

“Yeah, the light was one,” says a second person.

“We both…we checked it. The light was on,” a third worker says.

The manual released by FDACS adds some context to that conversation. According to the manual, green lights on a panel indicate the restraints were closed, no lights indicate the restraints were open, and a red light indicates the restraints are faulted.

According to the manual, attendants also must manually check the restraints when loading a guest in, pulling on it to ensure it’s locked in.

“The ride will not ascent unless those harnesses are locked in,” Stein told News 6 on Friday. “There were no indications there was anything different, so this is what we have got to find out.”

This is something the preliminary accident report confirmed.

“When the magnets engaged, the patron came out of the seat. Harness was still in a down a locked position when the ride stopped,” the report reads.

Stein and Slingshot Group did not return News 6 requests for follow up comments on Monday. Slingshot Group’s owner, Ritchie Anderson, also did not return our calls for comment.

The records were released by FDACS as ICON Park called on their tenant, the Slingshot Group, to suspend both Orlando FreeFall and Orlando SlingShot until the rides were deemed safe by investigators.

“As the landlord of the 20-acre entertainment destination in the center of the Orlando Entertainment District, ICON Park’s mission is to provide safe, family entertainment. We rely on our tenants to be experts at what they do,” company officials said in a statement Monday.

There are at least five free fall rides in the world using a model manufactured by Funtime Thrill Rides. Both of the U.S. ones, located in Dollywood and ICON Park, are closed pending investigations.


About the Authors:

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.

Samantha started at WKMG-TV in September 2020. Before joining the News 6 team, Samantha was a political reporter for The Villages Daily Sun and has had freelance work featured in the Evansville Courier-Press and The Community Paper. When not writing, she enjoys travelling and performing improv comedy.