ORLANDO, Fla. – A 14-year-old boy died late at night during a freefall amusement park ride higher than the Statue of Liberty along a busy street in the heart of the tourist district of Orlando.
Sheriff officials and emergency crews responded to a call Thursday night at the Orlando Free Fall ride, which opened late last year at Icon Park on the city’s International Drive.
The teenager was identified Friday as Tire Sampson, who was visiting central Florida from Missouri with a friend’s family. Detectives investigating the death will determine whether the death was intentional or accidental, Orange County Sheriff John Mina said.
“It just seems like a terrible tragedy,” Mina said. “We will see in the future what that gives.”
Sampson was taken to the hospital, where he died, sheriff’s officials said. No further details about the teenager or the incident were immediately released.
A man who witnessed what happened told a 911 dispatcher that Sampson seemed to slide out of his seat when the ride braked as he approached the bottom.
“Bam, went straight through his chair and fell,” the man said during the 911 call. “That was the biggest slap I’ve ever heard in my life. seen hitting the ground.
A woman who called 911 told a dispatcher that Sampson was face down, unresponsive and appeared to have broken arms and legs. Another man told a 911 dispatcher that the teen had no pulse.
Video aired by NBC’s “Today” show Friday morning appears to show passengers on the ride discussing issues with a seat restraint Thursday night. The ride then began its trek up the tower before someone was later seen falling off the ride.
“We are absolutely saddened and devastated by what happened, and our hearts go out to the family of this young man,” John Stine, sales manager for the Slingshot Group, owner of the ride, told The Associated Press on Friday morning. .
The Free Fall ride and an adjacent ride, the Sling Shot, have been closed indefinitely, Stine said. His company operates the two rides at Icon Park.
“We are cooperating with all other investigations at this time to shed light on what happened,” Stine said.
Stine said there were no previously reported issues with the Free Fall ride, which opened last December.
Employees and witnesses interviewed by detectives reported no problems beforehand.
“Everything seemed fine and normal,” Mina said.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which oversees ride inspections except for the state’s largest theme parks, launched an investigation and inspectors visited the site on Friday, spokeswoman Caroline Stoneciper said in an email.
According to a state agency report, the ride received an initial permit inspection on December 20, 2021, and no issues were found. The next semi-annual inspection of the ride was not scheduled for several months.
“The ride will be closed for the foreseeable future and will not reopen until all questions are answered in the ongoing FDACS investigation,” the report said.
The ride has restraint harnesses over the shoulder, with two handles at chest level, which riders pull down and then automatically release at the end of the ride. On Friday, an inspector could be seen sitting in a driving seat with the safety harness over his shoulders while another inspector took measurements.
The ride is 131 meters tall and billed as the tallest freestanding drop tower in the world, according to the park’s website.
The ride seats 30 passengers as it soars into the air, spins around the tower and then tilts to face the ground before plummeting at more than 75 mph (120 km/h), according to the website .
In 2021, a maintenance technician who was not properly hooked up to a safety device plunged 225 feet (68.5 meters) to his death on a nearby park ride, the StarFlyer Swing Ride. 450 feet high (137 kilometers high). .
Frisaro reported from Fort Lauderdale.