Sensors were adjusted on ride where teen fell to death

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Sensors on a Florida amusement park ride had been adjusted manually to double the size of the opening for restraints on two seats, resulting in a 14-year-old boy not being properly secured before he slipped out and fell to his death, according to an initial report released Monday by outside engineers.

The average opening for restraints on the seats on the 430-foot (131-meter), free-fall amusement park ride located in the heart of Orlando’s tourist district was 3.3 inches (8.3 centimeters). However, the opening of the restraint for the seat used by Tyre Sampson, upon inspection, was as much as 7.1 inches (18 centimeters), and the one for another seat was as much as 6.5 inches (16.5 centimeters), according to the report commissioned by the Florida Department of Agriculture, which is investigating the accident.

Sampson was only 14 but already 6 feet, 5 inches tall (195 centimeters) and well over 300 pounds (136 kilograms) when he slipped out of his seat as the ride plunged to the ground at speeds of 75 mph (about 121 kph) or more. The restraint opening was over 6 inches (15.2 centimeters) at the start of the ride with Sampson in the seat but could have expanded to as much as 10 inches (25 centimeters) from the extra weight, the report said.

An inspection showed that sensors used to activate safety lights on the two seats, indicating the harness safety restraints were in place, had been adjusted to allow for the wider openings. The safety lights on Sampson’s seat and on the ride’s control panel were illuminated; if they hadn’t been, the ride would not have started. As the ride slowed down, Sampson slipped through a gap between the seat and safety harness, the report said.

As part of the investigation, two individuals — one 6 feet, 3 inches (190 centimeters) tall, the other 6 feet, 5 inches (195 centimeters), and both weighing between 200 and 300 pounds (90 to 136 kilograms) — were positioned in the seat with openings ranging from 6 to 10 inches (15 to 25 centimeters). They slipped through the restraint, the report said.

“The cause of the subject accident was that Tyre Sampson was not properly secured in the seat primarily due to mis-adjustment of the harness proximity sensors,” said the report from Quest Engineering and Failure Analysis, Inc.

The Orlando Free Fall ride, which is taller than the Statue of Liberty, didn’t experience any electrical or mechanical failures, the report said.

The release of the report marks the initial phase of the investigation into the teen’s death, and “we are far from done,” Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said at a news conference in Orlando.

Fried said the 30-seat ride, located on a busy strip of International Drive in the heart of Orlando’s tourist district, would remain closed indefinitely.

The report said there were many other “potential contributions” to the accident and that a full review of the ride’s design and operations was needed.

In a statement, an attorney for the amusement ride’s owners, Orlando Slingshot, said the company had followed all protocols, procedures and safety measures provided by the ride’s manufacturer.

“Orlando Slingshot has fully cooperated with the State during the initial phase of its investigation, and we will continue to do so until it has officially concluded,” said Trevor Arnold, the attorney.

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This story has been edited to correct the name of the ride to Free Fall, not FreeFall.

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