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.
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.
Sampson was an honor roll student and an aspiring football player, his father Yarnell Sampson told CNN. Tyre was visiting Orlando with his football team over spring break, his father 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.
Passengers strapped into seats for nearly 400-foot drop
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.
“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 FreeFall 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.
State agency is investigating
Its inspectors will be at the site Friday “with our investigation underway,” department spokesperson Caroline Stonecipher told CNN.
The sheriff’s office has not gotten previous complaints about the ride, Mina said. But he stressed that the state agriculture department would be responsible for examining any such complaints.
CNN has sought further comment and FreeFall ride inspection records from the Agriculture and Consumer Services Department.
What the video shows
The video purporting to show the incident is recorded from the ground, just outside the attraction’s gate. Before the ride begins, riders sit in their seats, with a harness over their shoulders and chest, the video shows.
The vehicle eventually starts its ascent. About two-and-a-half minutes later, the descent begins.
Roughly five seconds into the drop — perhaps two-thirds down the tower — a person falls from one of the seats as the vehicle decelerates.
People scream, and the camera pans to show a body on the brick floor at the tower’s base.
“Call the ambulance! He just fell,” someone yells. As the ride lowers to ground level, riders plead for workers to let them off.
A worker appears and asks ride attendants whether they are sure they checked the rider. They say that they did.
Spectrum News 13 asked Stine about the harness.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled the victim’s name based on information from authorities.
CNN’s Melissa Alonso, Leyla Santiago, Sara Weisfeldt, Caroll Alvarado and Jamiel Lynch contributed to this report.