Last March, after a 14-year-old died in a horrific fall when he slipped out of his seat on the Orlando FreeFall, Tampa theme park Busch Gardens closed its similar drop tower ride Falcon’s Fury for inspection “out of an abundance of caution.”
Nearly a year later, Falcon’s Fury, a 335-foot freestanding drop tower that sends riders plunging 60 mph straight down, has only briefly reopened and remained shuttered for months. Blame the supply chain, a theme park spokesperson said, not jitters over a drop ride.
A Busch Gardens spokesperson, after an inquiry from the Tampa Bay Times, said the long wait is due to supply chain issues and needed parts for maintenance, and that the ride will reopen this spring.
“It’s a perfect storm,” said Eddie Delgado, spokesperson for Busch Gardens. “All of our rides go through routine maintenance but some of our rides, a majority actually, require special parts, and with Falcon’s Fury there are limited suppliers, and they have been delayed. We are looking forward to opening this spring.”
Tyre Sampson, an eighth grader who visited ICON Park in Orlando with his football team on March 24, died after slipping out of his seat while on the ride. A state investigation later concluded that Sampson fell “due to the changes made” by the ride’s operator, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried said during a news briefing in November.
The harness proximity sensor was manually repositioned to allow for a larger restraint opening than the ride’s other seats, Fried said. The ride’s attendants were instructed to seat larger guests in those seats, according to the department’s complaint.
The department, which inspects amusement rides in the state, is seeking a $250,000 fine for the amusement park operator, Orlando Eagle Drop Slingshot LLC, which has announced that the ride will be removed. Sampson’s parents filed a civil wrongful death lawsuit accusing ICON Park and other defendants, including the manufacturer and the operator of the FreeFall ride, of negligence.
Shortly after the accident, numerous amusement parks briefly closed their drop tower rides for inspection, including one at Dollywood in Tennessee, Doctor Doom’s Fearfall at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando and Falcon’s Fury at Busch Gardens in Tampa. Earlier this year, Busch Gardens Virginia permanently closed Mach Tower, its drop tower ride that opened in 2011. The company said “after review and consideration of overall guest satisfaction, we have made the decision to close,” on Jan. 8.
In the wake of Sampson’s death, state Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, has proposed legislation to increase ride safety. The Tyre Sampson Law proposes an increase in inspections and required training, as well as expanded signage about patron size requirements.
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