A 14-year-old boy died after he fell Thursday night from a drop tower amusement ride that recently opened at the Orlando area’s ICON Park entertainment complex, authorities said.
Tyre Sampson, 14, of St. Louis, Missouri, fell from the Orlando FreeFall ride, described by its operators as the world’s tallest freestanding drop tower, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said.
In video circulating on social media that purportedly shows the incident, a person falls from their seat about five seconds into the ride’s drop down the tower, as the vehicle decelerates before it reaches the ground.
Deputies were called to ICON Park around 11 p.m. Sampson was taken to a hospital, where he died from his injuries, the sheriff’s office said. Details about what led to the fall were not immediately released.
Sheriff’s investigators will determine whether the incident was an accident or intentional, and from an initial investigation, “it appears to be a terrible tragedy,” Orange County Sheriff John Mina said.
His son “was a very good young man. He was a big teddy bear, a gentle giant,” the elder Sampson said, adding Tyre was a “kindhearted kid” who would give the shirt off his back to anyone who needed it.
While holding back tears, Sampson told CNN he viewed the video of his son’s death on Facebook.
“I saw the video of my son falling down, and I couldn’t believe (it). My life stopped,” Sampson said.
He added, “I want to know what really happened. You know what, you know, why a 14-year-old young man with a bright future has been taken away from us.”
Passengers strapped into seats for nearly 400-foot drop
The FreeFall is a 430-foot-tall tower and ride, with a vehicle encircling the tower that takes up to 30 riders to the structure’s top. When the vehicle reaches the top, “it’ll tilt forward 30 degrees and face the ground before free falling nearly 400 feet at speeds reaching over 75 mph,” ICON Park’s website says. The ride opened around Christmas last year, the company 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 Service (FDACS) noted the Drop Tower passed inspection on December 20, 2021. No deficiencies were listed in the report.
The ride was scheduled to be inspected again by FDACS in June, midway through the permit year, according to the department.
FDACS also stated the owner/operator is responsible for inspecting the amusement ride prior to opening each day of operation.
The boy was secured in the ride’s seat, an official with the company that operates the ride told CNN affiliate Spectrum News 13.
“Yes (he was secured in the seat). That’s what we know at this time. So again, we operate the ride with all the safety precautions in mind and everything is in place and this is why we’re doing an investigation,” John Stine, sales and marketing director for the Slingshot Group, which operates the ride and two others at the park, told Spectrum News 13.
In an interview with CNN, John Stine, Slingshot Group’s sales and marketing director, said the company is heartbroken over Sampson’s death.
“We are devastated by what happened to this young guest of ours,” Stine told CNN Friday.
The ride has been closed until further notice while the incident is investigated, and the company said it is working with the sheriff’s office and officials on a full investigation.
“Right now, the last thing on our mind is getting the ride operational,” Stine said. “We want to find out what happened to this young man and safety is paramount for us, both with our guests and our employees.”
Stine said there had never been any problem with the drop tower ride. “We’ve been operational for almost three months. And it’s performed wonderfully. And this is what’s so perplexing,” he said.
ICON Park released a statement saying a “tragedy occurred last night at the Orlando Free Fall and our hearts are heavy with sadness.”
“The owner of the attraction is fully cooperating with authorities and ICON Park is doing everything we can to assist,” the statement reads.