A 14-year-old boy who fell to his death from a theme park drop tower knew something was wrong and was panicking when the ride took off, his devastated dad has said.
Tire Sampson tragically died after slipping from his seat on ICON Parks’ 430ft Orlando Free Fall around 11pm on Thursday.
The teen didn’t feel as though his safety harness was properly secured and told his friends sitting next to him to tell his parents that he loved them if he didn’t make it off, according to reports.
Photos and 911 call audio support the possibility that the schoolboy’s harness may not have been properly secured by theme park staff, the Mirror reports.
And his dad Yarnell Sampson says that the teen knew something was wrong as soon as the ride began to ascend.
Mr Sampson told WOFL-TV : “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?” .
The grieving father said Tire 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 mamma and daddy that I love them,” said Sampson.
“For him to say something like that, he must have felt something.”
Sampson said that his son was 6’5″ and was told by other rides in the park that he was too large to ride safely – but Free Fall ride operators waved him aboard.
New 911 call audio reported by the Sun shows a bystander believed that ride staff had not secured the safety harness.
The caller graphically described Tyre’s injuries, saying he was unresponsive but possibly still alive.
“They’re saying he’s breathing, but he’s not responsive. Looks like his arms are broken and his legs,” the person said.
“I don’t know from where he fell. They [ICON park staff] didn’t secure the seatbelt on him,” the caller claims.
An investigation into the park is now under way. 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.”
There were no ‘seatbelts’ on the ride – the only thing stopping passengers from falling out of their seats is plastic, pull-down harnesses which are supposed to be buckled in place, in between riders’ legs.
The ride went up in the air and halted for roughly 10 seconds before dropping.
Tire 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 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 step-mother Wendy said: “Tyre was a respectful gentle giant. You will be truly missed son.”
The teen was taken to 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.
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.
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
The ride stands 430-feet tall, and is billed as the world’s tallest free-standing drop tower, according to the park’s website.
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