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Safety sensors on Florida free fall ride were manually adjusted in "unsafe" way before teen's fatal accident, report finds

Safety sensors adjusted on seat of teen killed on thrill ride: Report
Safety sensors on Florida ride were manually adjusted in "unsafe" way before fatal accident: Report 01:50

The 14-year-old who died after falling from a thrill ride in Florida last month was in a seat that had previously been manually adjusted in a way that made the ride "unsafe," a report released this week by forensic investigators found. Quest Engineering and Failure Analysis' report found that the adjustment to the seat that Tyre Sampson fell from prevented safety sensors from shutting the ride down, even though the space between the seat and harness harness was too wide.

"This report confirmed our department's findings that an operator of the Orlando drop tower made manual adjustments to the ride, resulting in it being unsafe," Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried said at a press conference Monday.

Neither Fried nor the report specified when the sensors were changed or who specifically made the adjustment.

The ride did not experience any kind of mechanical or electrical failure, Quest's investigation found.  

According to the report, two safety lights that are meant to illuminate once the seat's harness is secured in a certain position must be activated for the ride to operate. The gap between Sampson's seat and harness was found to be over twice as big as the average gap in 27 of the other seats on the ride. But due to the adjustment that had been made to the plate that houses the proximity sensors, the safety lights were still illuminated, allowing the ride to operate normally. The investigation concluded that had the pate been in it's original position, the space between Sampson's seat and closed harness would have been the same as the other 27 seats on the ride.

The report also noted that the gap between the seats and the harnesses can expand another three inches when enough force is applied, meaning the gap between Sampson's seat and harness could have been as large as 10 inches while the ride was operating.

Testing during the investigation found that two individuals with similar height and weight as Sampson "were able to slip through the restraint opening without any assistance." CBS News correspondent Manuel Bojorquez reported in March that the harness for Sampson's seat "was still in a down and locked position when the ride stopped."

Sampson was 6 feet, 5 inches tall and weighed over 300 pounds when he fell to his death from Orlando FreeFall ride at Orlando's Icon Park on March 24.

The tower sits at 430 feet tall and is billed as the world's tallest free-standing drop tower. Riders are taken up to the top, tilted so they face the ground for several seconds, and then drop at speeds up to 75mph. 

According to an operations and maintenance manual seen by CBS News and prepared by the ride's manufacturer, Funtime Handels GmbH, of Dölsach, Austria, the maximum weight for passengers should be around 286 pounds. Ride operators are advised to check that larger riders fit within the contours of the seat and the bracket before starting the ride. 

Free Fall Death
A makeshift memorial for Tyre Sampson is viewed outside the Orlando Free Fall ride at the ICON Park entertainment complex, Sunday, March 27, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. Sampson fell to his death while on the ride. Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP

Following the release of the report, officials have said the drop tower will remain closed "indefinitely" while the investigation continues. 

Sampson's family has called for more information on how the accident took place, but officials said Monday they could not answer when the sensor was manually moved or who did it. 

"This is going to be an issue of a lack of supervision and lack of training," Bob Hilliard, a Texas attorney who represents Sampson's mother, Nekia Dodd, said in March. "A straight-up negligence case."

On Monday, Florida state Representative Geraldine Thompson said that she and other officials would be pushing for more regulations, including requiring additional inspections for rides that make manual changes like sensor moves. Thompson also said she was considering a "Tyre Sampson bill," aimed at preventing similar incidents.

-Manuel Bojorquez contributed reporting.

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