Several serious injuries after acrobats fall during US circus stunt

Emergency workers tend to injured performers after a platform collapse on Sunday, May 4, 2014 during a circus show in Providence, R.I.
Tara Griggs

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -  Authorities are trying to determine what caused a support frame to collapse during an aerial hair-hanging stunt at a U.S. circus performance, sending eight acrobats crashing to the ground.

Nine performers were seriously hurt during Sunday's performance by Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus in Rhode Island, including a dancer below. Several others suffered less serious injuries.

The accident occurred during the Legends show in which the circus says eight performers hang “like a human chandelier” using their hair.

Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said officials and inspectors haven't yet determined what caused the accident.

It was witnessed by an audience of about 3,900, many of them children.

Stephen Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros., said the metal-frame apparatus came free from its metal truss. The eight women fell up to 12 metres, landing on a dancer on the ground.

Pare said none of the injuries appears to be life-threatening.

Roman Garcia, general manager of the Legends show, asked people to pray for the performers.

“Everybody's doing fine, everybody's at the hospital, everybody's conscious, everybody's doing pretty well,” he said less than two hours after the accident.

Rhode Island Hospital in Providence admitted 11 patients with varying injuries, including one in critical condition, spokeswoman Jill Reuter said.

The hair-hanging stunt is described on the circus' website as a “larger-than-life act” featuring eight female performers.

“These 'hairialists' perform a combination of choreography and cut-ups including spinning, hanging from hoops, and rolling down wrapped silks, all while being suspended 35 feet (11 metres) in the air by their hair alone,” the website says. “In this hair-raising act, audiences will even see the weight of three girls held aloft by the locks of only one of these tangled beauties.”

Video taken by audience members showed a curtain coming down, and several performers hanging around eight metres in the air from an apparatus suspended from above. Seconds later, as they began to perform, the women fell and the metal apparatus landed on them.

“It just went crashing down,” said audience member Sydney Bragg, 14. “Everyone was freaking out. We heard this huge clatter and then we just heard the girls scream.”

She said spotlights were on the performers at the time, but all the lights went out after the fall.

Rosa Viveiros said she saw that the acrobats had fallen on top of at least one other performer on the ground, a man who stood up with his face bloodied. The acrobats remained still and did not get up, she said.

“We thought it was part of the circus,” said her husband, Joe.

A Ringling Bros. aerial performer was killed in 2004 in Minnesota when she was twirling 30 feet in the air on long chiffon scarves and the material gave way.

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