A harrowing 911 call revealed how Orlando’s ICON theme park employees ‘didn’t secure the seatbelt’ of a 14-year-old boy who fell to his death from a 430-foot drop tower.
Tyre Sampson, 14, of St. Louis, Missouri, died after slipping out of his seat on the 430-foot Orlando Free Fall ride at the ICON Park at around 11pm on Thursday. The teenager was visiting central Florida on a football program trip
Sampson had been worried about the harness prior to the ride beginning, his father Yarnell said, and told his friends sitting next to him to tell his parents that he loved them.
‘When the ride took off, that’s when he was feeling uncomfortable. He was like ‘this thing is moving,’ you know what I’m saying. And he was like ‘what’s going on?’ Yarnell told WOFL-TV.
The grieving father said that Tyre began to panic and shared a chilling premonition with his two best friends, seated next to him on the ride.
‘That’s when he started freaking out. And he was explaining to his friends, next to him: “I don’t know man, if I don’t make it down, safely, can you please tell my momma and daddy that I love them,”‘ said Sampson. ‘For him to say something like that, he must have felt something.’
Now, the 911 call revealed that Sampson’s seatbelt wasn’t secured.
‘They didn’t secure the seatbelt on him,’ an unidentified woman caller told a 911 operator.
‘They’re saying he’s breathing, but he’s not responsive. Looks like his arms are broken and his legs,’ the person said.
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A harrow 911 call revealed that 14-year-old Tyre Sampson’s harness wasn’t secured, causing him to fall to his death on Thursday. ‘They didn’t secure the seatbelt on him,’ an unidentified woman caller told a 911 operator
Tyre’s harness does not appear to be buckled in this photo, which was taken moments before the ride went into the air, unlike the other boys. It’s unclear if he did fasten it before the ride began (pictured: Tyre, far right)
When asked how far up he was when he feel, the woman replied: ‘I’m not sure, but it’s the new [ride], that’s all the way high – the highest one. I don’t know from where he fell.’
The 911 caller graphically described Tyre’s injuries, including that he had ‘blood on his feet’ and saying he was unresponsive but possibly still alive.
She also informed the 911 operator that no one was able to perform CPR on Sampson because they were unable to shift him to his back.
‘No, no, he’s a heavy dude. He’s on his stomach,’ the woman said.
Yarnell said that his son was 6-foot-5 and 340 pounds, and was told by other rides in the park that he was too large to ride safely, but that the Free Fall ride operators waved him aboard.
‘This particular ride decided: “Yeah, we can take you, get on,” when nobody else would allow him to get on the rides,’ said Sampson’s father.
An investigation into the park is now underway. At a press conference on Friday, Orange County Sheriff John Mina said: ‘It appears to be just a terrible tragedy. We will see moving forward what that results in.’
Tyre and the rest of the group had been told moments earlier that there were no seatbelts on the ride. The only thing stopping them from falling out of their seats were plastic, pull-down harnesses which are supposed to buckle in place, in between riders’ legs.
One woman was worried about the fact there was nothing more to keep them in the seats as the ride descended and asked if there was a seatbelt to clip them in. ‘There ain’t no seatbelts,’ the ride attendant replied.
The ride then went up in the air and halted for around 10 seconds before dropping.
The boy fell out of his seat and landed on the ground soon afterwards to the horror of the other riders.
After they were back on the ground, video shows a different park worker run over to the ride attendant and ask: ‘You didn’t check it!?’
He insisted that he had and she asked again: ‘Are you sure?’
Tyre’s family paid tribute to him on social media as a ‘gentle giant.’
His step-mother Wendy said: ‘Tyre was a respectful gentle giant. You will be truly missed son,’ she said.
Park employees say they initially thought his body was a piece of the ride that had broken off until they saw the boy lying on the ground.
It’s unclear what the minimum height restriction for the ride is or how he could have fallen out of his harness.
It is the second accident at the park in two years. In 2020, a park employee died while working on the StarFlyer ride.
Sampson was taken to Arnold Palmer Hospital but succumbed to his injuries, Orange County Sheriff’s Office confirmed.
‘At first we thought it was a piece of the ride or whatever until we got a little closer and it was a person laying on the ground.
‘Everyone was just panicking and screaming,’ park employee Montrey Williams told FOX 35 Orlando.
Sampson was taken to a hospital, where he died, sheriff’s officials said.
A man who witnessed what happened told a 911 dispatcher that Sampson seemed to slip out of his seat when the ride braked as it approached the bottom.
‘Bam, went straight through his chair and dropped,’ the man said on the 911 call. ‘It was the biggest smack I ever heard in my life. I seen him hit the ground.’
The ride is pictured on Friday, the day after the accident
The 6-foot-5, 340-pound teenager was on a trip with his football program, and was sitting next two two of his best friends when he plunged to his death, his father said
A woman who called 911 told a dispatcher that Sampson was facedown, wasn’t responsive and appeared to have broken his arms and legs. Another man told a 911 dispatcher that the teen had no pulse.
A video from the incident 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 is later seen falling from the ride.
‘We are absolutely saddened and devastated by what happened, and our hearts go out this young man’s family,’ John Stine, sales director with the Slingshot Group which owns 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.
A similar drop tower ride at Tennessee’s Dollywood, made by the same manufacturer, has been shut down
‘We are cooperating with all other investigations at this time to get to the bottom of what happened,’ Stine said.
Stine said there had been no issues reported previously with the Free Fall ride, which opened last December.
Employees and witnesses interviewed by detectives reported no problems beforehand.
‘Everything seemed to be okay and normal,’ Mina said.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which oversees amusement ride inspections with the exception of the state’s largest theme parks, has launched an investigation and inspectors were at the site Friday, spokesperson Caroline Stoneciper said in an email.
According to a report from the state agency, the ride had its initial permit inspection on December 20, 2021, and no problems were found. The next semi-annual inspection for the ride wasn’t due for several more months.
‘The ride will be closed for the foreseeable future and will not re-open until all questions are answered as part of the ongoing FDACS investigation,’ the report said.
The father (right) of the 14-year-old boy who died falling from a theme park ride in Orlando has said that the boy knew something was wrong with his safety harness seconds before plunging to his death
Images from a video show Tyre on the ride just before it ascended and he plunged to his death
The ride is seen ascending seconds before the fatal incident
This is the ride last night that a 14-year-old boy fell from. He is now shown in these images, he was sitting on the other side of the carousel when it ascended. The ride operator is shown telling the group that there ‘ain’t seatbelts’ to hold them in, only the pull-down harnesses
Close up view of the Orlando Free Fall at ICON Park on Friday, March 25, 2022 in Orlando
ICON Park attractions, The Wheel, left, Orlando SlingShot, middle, and Orlando FreeFall, right, are shown in Orlando
The ride has over-the shoulder restraint harnesses, with two hand grips at the chest level, that riders pull down and then they are released automatically at the end of the ride. An inspector on Friday could be seen sitting in a ride seat with the security harness over his shoulders as another inspector took measurements.
The ride stands 430-feet tall, and is billed as the world’s tallest free-standing drop tower, according to the park’s website.
The ride holds 30 passengers as it rises in the air, rotates around the tower and then tilts to face the ground before free falling at more than 75mph, the website said.
In 2021, a maintenance technician who was not properly hooked up to a safety device plunged 225 feet to his death at a neighboring ride at the park, the 450-foot-tall StarFlyer swing ride.