An engineering firm hired by the state found that the operator of the Orlando Free Fall drop tower manually changed sensors on specific seats on the ride, “resulting in it being unsafe,” Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said Monday in Orlando.
The report, written by Quest Engineering & Failure Analysis, determined that the changes allowed harnesses on certain seats to open to “almost double” the normal range, Fried said. Tyre Sampson, a 14-year-old who died on the attraction at ICON Park last month, reportedly weighed around 340 pounds.
“These mis-adjustments allowed the safety lights to illuminate and properly satisfy 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.
Asked for comment about the report’s conclusions, Trevor Arnold, the attorney representing the ride’s operator, said the SlingShot Group followed all of the manufacturer’s “protocols, procedures and safety measures.”
“Today’s report suggests a full review of the ride’s design, safety, operation, restraint mechanisms and history – which of course we welcome,” he said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the Florida legislature to implement change in the industry, as the safety of our patrons is always our top priority.”
The state released the report into the accident Monday, shortly before Fried held a brief press conference.
The report showed engineers determined the ride was functioning correctly, with no evidence of “physical or mechanical failure.”
But the restraints on two of the ride’s seats, one of which was occupied by Tyre, were modified to open between three and four inches wider than the ride’s other restraints, on average, the report found.
At the time of the accident, Tyre’s restraint created a nearly seven-inch gap between the harness and the raised part of the seat between his legs. That gap could have widened to 10 inches as the ride ran, according to the report.
“During slowing of the ride, Tyre Sampson slipped through the gap between the seat and harness,” the report read. “ … The cause of the subject accident was that Tyre Sampson was not properly secured in the seat primarily due to the mis-adjustment of the harness proximity sensor.”
The report said “many other potential contributions” could have factored into the accident, and its authors recommended a full review of the ride’s “design, safety, operation, restraint mechanisms and history.”
The drop tower will remain closed indefinitely, Fried said.
Michael Haggard, the attorney representing Tyre’s mother Nekia Dodd, said Fried called Dodd ahead of the press conference to inform her of the report’s findings.
Haggard said Tyre’s family was not surprised by news of the ride modifications, since the engineers they hired to conduct an ongoing independent investigation reached the same result.
“[But] it’s another thing to hear from the Commissioner of Agriculture of the State of Florida that they have found that a company manipulated and changed a seat in a ride like this,” he said in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel. “… It’s astonishing.”
The family plans to file a lawsuit in the coming weeks, Haggard said.
Fried did not take questions from reporters during the press conference.
She did not mention whether the ride operator could potentially face criminal charges in the case but said the agency was looking at “potential penalties.”
The investigation into the accident led by Fried’s agency, which includes consumer services, has finished its “initial phase” but is still ongoing.
Appearing alongside Fried, state Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, said the state’s investigation is still determining when the adjustments to the ride’s sensors were made and who authorized them.
“I don’t believe that the department would issue a permit if these adjustments were made before the inspection and they realized that it did not conform with the manufacturer’s guidelines,” she said. “… We want to make sure that first of all, the manufacturer has an opportunity to provide evidence, and the operator has an opportunity to provide evidence.”
On April 1, Fried said the state hired Quest Engineering to assist in the investigation because it could provide details the state’s engineers could not, including the ride’s mechanisms and calibrations.
On Monday, Fried reiterated that the department would look into making changes to its rules and Florida’s ride regulation laws once the accident investigation concludes.
Thompson restated her commitment to writing the “Tyre Sampson Bill,” which she said will include stricter rules for ride modifications, training and safety signage.
“What I want to do is to strengthen the requirement that if there is any adjustment [to a ride], that would trigger another inspection,” she said. ” … This is not a one-time kind of situation, and these adjustments were made that led to the unfortunate incident and the death of Tyre Sampson.”
In a statement, ICON Park said it would continue to support the state’s investigation and was “deeply troubled” by its preliminary findings.
An engineering firm hired by @FDACS found the operator of the Orlando Free Fall drop tower manually adjusted sensors on specific seats on the ride, “resulting in it being unsafe,” Commissioner Fried said. The sensors allowed the harnesses to open “almost double” the normal range. pic.twitter.com/hTBaQn4Hca
— Katie Rice (@katievrice) April 18, 2022
[email protected] and @katievrice on Twitter
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