The teenager who plunged to his death from the world’s tallest free-standing drop tower ride at a Florida amusement park has been identified as a 14-year-old straight-A student who was on vacation with a friend’s family.
Tyre Sampson, from Missouri, died on Thursday night when he fell from the Orlando Free Fall ride at ICON Park in Orlando just after 11pm.
The teenager was rushed to hospital where he was pronounced dead from his injuries.
Orange County Sheriff John Mina released the boy’s name at a press conference on Friday saying that the evidence so far pointed to his death being “a terrible tragedy”.
“Based on all of our preliminary investigation information, it appears to be a terrible tragedy, but our investigation is still open,” he said.
A photo circulating online appears to show the teenager’s safety harness was not pulled down around him sometime before the ride took off. In the image, the passengers next to him do appear to have their harnesses already fastened.
Sheriff Mina said that the 14-year-old was visiting Orlando with another family when the incident unfolded.
He said that victim advocates are in contact with Tyre’s family as he said he “can’t imagine the pain and anguish that his family must be going through”.
Tyre’s youth football coach AJ Jones paid tribute to the teenager as a “humble giant” who had dreams of playing football for the NFL.
Mr Jones, of Bad Boyz Football, told News 6 he was “devastated” when he learned about Tyre’s death.
He described the teen as a straight-A student who was about to become the starting offensive lineman at East St. Louis High School in the fall.
Footage shared by the Today show captured the moment before the ride took off, with crew members talking to a group of passengers about seat belts.
A female passenger who appears concerned asks about seat belts and is told that there are none on the ride.
Passengers are held in by the plastic harness that goes over their shoulders and chest.
As the ride begins to move into the air, the operator is heard asking: “Hey, did you check your seat belt on the left side, seat belt.”
The footage later shows the moment the boy is thrown from the ride as it drops back toward the ground.
As workers rush to the scene, they are heard asking each other “did you check him?” while other panicked passengers on the ride shout to “let us out”.
Other park-goers who witnessed the moment the teenager fell described how people were “panicking and screaming” when they realised what had happened.
Montrey Williams told Fox35 that “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”.
John Stine, director of sales and marketing for the Slingshot Group of Companies, which owns and operated the ride, said the Free Fall will remain closed indefinitely.
He said on Friday that the park staff “operate the ride with all the safety precaution in mind” and the boy was in a safety harness.
“Our hearts go out to the family of this young man,” he said.
On Friday, ICON Park released a statement saying the owner of the attraction is “fully cooperating with authorities and ICON Park is doing everything we can to assist.
The Orlando Free Fall ride first opened in December and has become a popular attraction for the Florida theme park ever since.
The premise for the thrill is that a vehicles encircles a central tower as it creep up the 400 ft drop.
Once at the top, riders briefly slant forward and actually face the ground before racing toward it at 75 mph.
This isn’t the first time that ICON Park has experienced a fatal accident in recent years.
A 21-year-old park employee died after falling 200 ft from the Orlando StarFlyer attraction while performing a safety check.
The employee was about halfway up the 450 ft tall structure before he fell to his death and struck a platform below the ride.
First responders said the man had gone into cardiac arrest when they were called to the scene shortly after 8am on 14 September 2020.