ORLANDO, Fla. – An independent forensic engineering firm hired in the investigation into a teen’s fatal fall from an Orlando drop tower found the operator of the thrill ride manually adjusted the sensors in the seat he was in, which made the ride unsafe.
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried announced Quest Engineering & Failure Analysis’ findings in the investigation into the death of 14-year-old Tyre Sampson, who was visiting from Missouri on spring break. The firm’s 14-page report determined the ride itself did not have an electrical or mechanical failure but a manual adjustment in the seat he was in allowed the ride to operate even when it was unsafe.
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Fried said the operator of the Orlando FreeFall made “manual adjustments to the ride resulting in it being unsafe” and allowed the harness’ restraint opening to be “almost double” of the normal opening range.
The report shows the harness sensor of the seat Sampson was in was “manually loosened, adjusted, and tightened to allow a restraint opening of near 7 inches.”
Per the report, Sampson was in 'Seat 1', the night he fell from Orlando Freefall, a 430 ft. drop tower at ICON Park. The report says the harness had been previously adjusted from a 3 in. gap, to a 6-7 in. gap. Sensors were also adjusted so the ride would still operate. @news6wkmg pic.twitter.com/IBZWyDpzOS— Merris Badcock (@MerrisBadcock) April 18, 2022
During the ride’s descent and slowing, the boy slipped through the gap, “which may have expanded several inches due to inherent seat and harness compliance,” the report said.
“These misadjustments allow the safety lights to illuminate, improperly satisfying the ride’s electronic safety mechanisms that allow the ride to operate even though Mr. Sampson was not properly secured in the seat,” Fried said. “As noted in the report, there are many other potential contributing factors that may have played a role in the incident. And that is what our department is continuing to investigate.”
While these other factors are being investigated, Fried said the Orlando FreeFall will be closed indefinitely. The department will continue its investigation to determine whether there will need to be any rule or legislative changes, she said.
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Fried’s office released pages of state statute and the permitting and inspection requirements for rides in Florida after the boy’s death. The list includes testing, signage, and training -- all of which the investigation is expected to scrutinize. FDACS released the official “stop operation order,” which became effective a day after Sampson died.
The stop order said the FreeFall ride is “considered an immediate serious danger to public health, safety, and welfare and may not be operated for patron use until it has passed a subsequent inspection.”
The attorney for the SlingShot Group, which operates the Orlando FreeFall, released a statement following the report from Fried’s office.
“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. 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. We look forward to working with the Florida legislature to implement change in the industry, as the safety of our patrons is always our top priority.”Trevor Arnold, GrayRobinson P.A.
View the full report below: