Last week a tragic event took place when a 14-year-old boy, identified as Tyre Sampson, fell to his death from the FreeFall attraction at ICON Park in Orlando, Florida. While the investigation as to exactly what happened is still ongoing, another theme park, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee’s Dollywood, is not taking any chances. It has decided to close its own drop tower attraction, made by the same manufacturer of the Florida ride, “out of an abundance of caution.”
Dollywood is home to the Drop Line, a freestanding drop tower attraction, which was constructed by Funtime, the same company that built ICON Park’s Orlando FreeFall. While the attractions are not identical, the Dollywood version is 200 feet tall, less than half that of the attraction where the accident occurred, Dollywood said in a statement (via Fox News) that it would be taking the Drop Line out of action until more details are known regarding exactly what happened that caused the Orlando accident.
Some new details are now known. According to documents released by the state regarding the operation of FreeFall, the maximum rider weight was 287 pounds, and according to Orlando’s WESH, Tyre Sampson was over 300 pounds. If all this is accurate then it would seem he should not have been allowed on the FreeFall in the first place. It’s unclear if the attraction had a mechanism for checking weight on the ride. A spokesman for the drop tower’s owners says the FreeFall was operating properly prior to the accident. He also stated that FreeFall has numerous safety features in place designed to prevent these accidents.
The FreeFall had only been in operation since December, making it the newest and tallest of Funtime’s Skyfall attractions. There are at least two others currently in operation, the Donjon de l’Extrême at Nigloland in France and the Highlander at Hansa-Park in Germany. Dollywood’s Drop Line has been operating since 2017.
While the other versions of this attraction have been operating for years without incident, and none are as tall as the ICON Park version, it’s understandable why Dollywood would decide to stop operating its own drop tower attraction. If the problem is somehow with the ride itself, that’s something that needs to be dealt with, even if the Drop Line has gone this long without a problem. And under the circumstances, a lot of people may be hesitant to ride drop towers in general right now.
Once a clear determination of what happened here has been made, the ride can reopen and guests and employees will likely be happy that Dollywood took the precautions that it did. Dollywood has a reputation for taking care of its staff and certainly it wants to be seen looking out for guests as well. Amusement park rides are supposed to give guests the feeling of danger, but only the feeling, there’s not supposed to be any actual danger in going on a thrill ride.