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Orlando Free Fall ride made unsafe after manual adjustments by operator, officials say

Investigation into the deadly fall continues
Orlando FreeFall ride
Posted at 2:28 PM, Apr 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-19 10:34:55-04

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Orlando Free Fall ride where a 14-year-old boy died in March was made "unsafe" after manual adjustments were made by the operator, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried said Monday.

Tyre Sampson, 14, died after he fell from the ride on March 24 at ICON Park.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Florida officials speak on Orlando thrill ride death investigation

Fried said a report completed by a forensic engineer, Quest Engineering and Failure Analysis, showed that the changes allowed the harness restraint opening to be almost double that of the normal range.

"This report answers the questions of what mechanically took place," Fried said. "This report confirmed our department's findings that the operator of the Orlando Drop Tower made manual adjustments to the ride, resulting in it being unsafe."

She added that the "mis-adjustments" allowed the safety lights on the seat to illuminate, "improperly satisfying the ride's electronic safety mechanisms that allowed the ride to operate even though Mr. Sampson was not properly secured in the seat."

Fried said the report also noted that there are several other factors that may have played a role in the incident. The ride will remain closed while the investigation continues, Fried said.

Rep. Geraldine Thompson (D) Orlando also appeared at the press conference on Monday. She elaborated that, to her understanding, the report showed the adjustments were made to two seats on the ride.

"Presumably, to allow for larger riders which should not have happened, based on the manufacturer's guidelines," Thompson said. "My understanding is that the adjustments were made to seat one and seat two and, therefore, if you had a larger person they were assigned to seat one and seat two."

Thompson said she was "disturbed" those types of adjustments were made after the inspection and after the permit was issued. Representative Thompson said findings from the investigation may lead to a “Tyre Sampson Bill,” to prevent another thrill ride tragedy from happening again.

“Strengthen the requirement that if there is any adjustment, that would trigger another inspection, up to revocation of the license to operate the rides,” Thompson said.

Signed documents provided by FDACS showed the Free Fall ride passed a state inspection on December 20, 2021. Signed certification from ride operators there the night of Sampson's death also appeared on a state training record.

"At what point those adjustments were made, who authorized them, were they reported to the department (FDACS)," Thompson said. "All of these questions have to be answered."

Thompson added that prior to the permit and inspection; the operator of the ride has to provide guidelines from the manufacturer to FDACS such as the maximum weight allowed.

"The manufacturer indicated that the maximum weight was 250 pounds, and Tyre Sampson weighed in excess of 300 pounds," Thompson said. "So yes, this (the adjustments) was outside of the manufacturer's guidelines."

"Whether it's due to training — lack of training — lack of signage as the rider approached the ride," she added. "We want to answer all of those kind of questions."

Fried said the outcome of the full investigation will determine if changes are made to existing rules, regulations and statutes. Fried said any necessary changes would be made, "immediately."