ORLANDO, Fla. - Drop towers are common at amusement parks across the country. They take riders several hundred feet above the ground and then drop them, allowing them to free-fall for some time before a controlled stop.
Following the death of Tyre Sampson, the 14-year-old who fell off the Orlando FreeFall ride at ICON Park in March, questions have been raised about how this could happen, but also about the differences in how these drop tower rides are made, even when made by the same company.
CONTINUING COVERAGE: ICON Park Death Investigation
FunTime Thrill Rides, which is based outside the United States, makes several amusement rides, including Orlando FreeFall in Orlando, Florida, and Drop Line at Dollywood in Tennessee. While both rides are similar, they have some differences, including height, operation, and restraints.
It's something attorneys representing members of Sampson's family are interested in.
Drop Line is 230 feet tall and uses a gondola to lift people 20 stories above the ground. Orlando FreeFall is 430 feet tall, touted as the world's tallest drop tower, and tilts people forward briefly before dropping them.
An inspector with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, the state agency that oversees the safety of amusement rides, looks over the Orlando Free Fall drop tower ride at Orlando ICON Park. (Credit: FOX 35 Orlando)
Neither ride uses seatbelts, which some experts said may have prevented Sampson's death, even if considered to be a safety redundancy. But, the restraints do look different.
A spokesperson said Drop Line's restraints come down to the rider's legs and holds them into a molded seat.
"It comes down and it locks the top of your legs or your femurs in place," said Ken Martin, an amusement ride safety consultant.
Orlando FreeFall has shoulder restraints, similar to that of a roller coaster, that come over the shoulders and sides of the body.
He believes the restraints on Dollywood's ride are safer.
But, he also said that comparing both rides isn't a fair comparison because Dollywood's ride is smaller and was built several years before FreeFall opened (Drop Line opened in 2017).
"The industry standards that we build these rides by, they can change from year to year," he said. And states regulate rides differently.
Michael Haggard, who represents Sampson's mom, also noted that the rides on Orlando FreeFall tilt forward, allegedly that to be potentially unsafe.
Attorney Michael Haggard also pointed out the feature on the Orlando FreeFall that tilts the seats forward as being potentially unsafe.
Martin, who is not involved in the investigation, disagrees.
"Absolutely not, unless there was something malfunctioning with Tyre’s seat and it was activated by the tilting forward," he said.
Orlando FreeFall and its sister ride at ICON Park, Orlando Slingshot, have been closed since March 24, while multiple investigations take place. Both rides are owned by The Slingshot Group.
Drop Line at Dollywood has also remained closed "out of an abundance of caution," following Sampson's death. It was still closed this week, a spokesperson said.