Tragedy at ICON Park: The road to recovery must begin with safety
It was supposed to be a nice vacation getaway for 14-year-old Tyre Sampson who was visiting Orlando. Originally from Missouri, Sampson was out with his friends when he rode his last ride. A short clip was shared on social media depicting how the boy fell off of the Free Fall ride at Orlando’s ICON Park and hit the ground.
A video of the incident showed that about 30 seconds after Tyre fell, one of the employees asked her coworkers if they had checked the boy’s security harness. The other employees responded that they did. Unfortunately, that was not enough.
Both ICON Park and Slingshot Group, which owns and operates the rides, are currently working with authorities during their investigation into the death of the teen. The Free Fall ride has been closed indefinitely during the investigation.
Although the investigation is still in its early stages, I’ve gone on a few free fall roller coasters, and know that there is often a secondary failsafe mechanism in place, such as a seatbelt between the legs hooking up to the big harness over the chest. Unfortunately, operators will sometimes forgo these backup safety measures to increase the number of rides per hour.
The Free Fall ride did not have a failsafe mechanism. Although there are no state or industry standards that require rides to have secondary safety mechanisms, ICON Park and the Slingshot Group should have taken that extra precaution.
The Orlando free-fall ride was a new ride to Icon Park that had just opened in late December of last year. This ride was the tallest free-fall drop in the world, plummeting 400 feet while going up to 75 miles per hour, and right before the drop, guests tilt 30 degrees near the top.
From a communication perspective, The Slingshot Group of Companies, released a statement regarding the boy’s death, how they are terribly sorry for the family and will do their best to figure out how it happened. Icon Park also shared a statement on their Twitter account expressing remorse for the boy and his family as well as still trying to keep the good, family-friendly image for them.
So far, many people on social media have expressed that they are not happy with how the police are handling this, and some argue that the ride operator should be charged with involuntary manslaughter due to the gruesomeness of the accident. Others are claiming that the park should shut down as a whole and not be able to re-open until they add the necessary safety measures to avoid another tragedy.
This is not the only death that has occurred in this park. In 2020, a worker fell to his death from another ride owned by the Slingshot Group. This incident was reported to be a work-related tragedy since he was not correctly strapped on the ride. ICON Park already has a history of tragic deaths with unknown causes, so it would not come as a surprise if sales declined in the following months.
This puts to question the future of ICON Park. Will they still be a popular amusement park in the heart of Orlando? Will tourism decrease over this tragedy? How will they move forward? Will the public ever trust them again?
ICON Park’s PR team will have to work overtime to figure out how to adequately address this tragedy. However, their primary concern at this point has to be public safety. A failure to address these safety issues will only intensify the damage from this crisis. Their reputation and their financial concerns should only be considered after they have taken all of the necessary steps to prevent an event like this from occurring again.
By Rocio Rodriguez
Rocio is a fourth-year student at San Diego State University, majoring in Journalism with an emphasis in Public Relations and a minor in Television. Film & New Media. She plans to graduate in December 2022 and pursue a career in the entertainment or music industry.