ORLANDO, Fla. (WFLA) — Manual adjustments to a theme park ride could have led to Tyre Sampson’s death at Orlando’s ICON Park, according to Nikki Fried, Florida commissioner of agriculture and consumer services.
During a Monday press conference, Fried said that after a forensic examination of the ride by Quest Engineering, the Orlando FreeFall would be closed indefinitely.
“This report answers the question what mechanically took place as our investigation moves to the next phase of how and why it occurred as we look toward potential penalties along with any changes to rules and regulations needed to prevent tragedies,” the commissioner said.
The 14-year-old died on March 24 after he fell from the Orlando FreeFall while visiting the park with a friend’s family. The ride had only been in operation for less than six months and was inspected in December, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The incident called the ride’s safety protocols into question. Ride analyst Ken Martin said that the 14-year-old never should have been able to get on the ride in the first place since he exceeded the ride’s limit of 287 pounds.
The Quest Engineering report determined that there was no mechanical or electrical failure of the ride itself.
However, it was discovered that the harness proximity sensor on Tyre’s seat, Seat 1, was manually loosened and adjusted to allow for a restraint opening of seven inches. This adjustment caused Tyre’s seat to be improperly secured, leading him to fall from the 430-ride to his death.
“At the time of the accident, Seat 1’s harness restraint opening was between 6 to 7 inches at the start of the ride,” the report said. “During slowing of the ride Tyre Sampson slipped through the gap between the seat and harness, which may have expanded several inches due to inherent seat and harness compliance.”
At this time, officials have not said who the ride operator was that made the adjustments. According to the report, the adjustments were made to both Seat 1 and Seat 2 on the ride.
ICON Park released a statement saying it was disturbed by the findings:
We are deeply troubled that the preliminary findings of the State’s investigation indicate a sensor on the Orlando FreeFall attraction, which is owned and operated by the SlingShot Group, had been mis-adjusted after the sensor was originally secured in place. ICON Park is committed to providing a safe, fun experience for families. We will continue to support the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services with their ongoing investigation.
Fried said that the FDACS will continue its investigation, and once it is completed, changes will be made to regulations.