Providence, Rhode Island: Investigators looking into why eight circus acrobats plummeted to the ground during an aerial hair-hanging stunt have found that a clamp snapped, a public safety official said yesterday.
“We have identified a clamp that snapped that held them to the rafters, and it failed,” Providence public safety commissioner Steven Pare told a local radio station, WPRO-AM, a day after a support frame collapsed during the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus.
Three of the acrobats remained in critical condition yesterday morning. Several performers on the ground also were injured. None of the injuries appear to be life-threatening, according to Stephen Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Brothers.
“They’ve used this act many times. Unfortunately this particular clamp failed. It snapped off. We have it, we’re analysing it, we’re seeing why it happened to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future. That’s all part of our focus,” Pare told WPRO.
The act is part of the Legends show, in which performers hang “like a human chandelier”, using their hair. Investigators from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration are looking into the accident, along with local authorities.
Eight of the injured were members of the circus’ Medeiros troupe, and are from the US, Brazil, Bulgaria and Ukraine, according to the circus’s website.
A spokeswoman for Rhode Island Hospital said Dayana Costa, Julissa Segrera and Stefany Neves were in critical condition. Viktoriya Medeiros and Viktorila Liakhova were listed in serious condition, while Samantha Pitard, Svitlana Balanicheva and Widny Nevas were listed in good condition. The names and conditions of three others injured had not been released.
The accident was reported about 45 minutes into the circus’ 11am Sunday performance at the Dunkin’ Donuts Centre. It was witnessed by an audience of about 3,900, many of them children.
Payne said the metal-frame apparatus from which the performers were hanging came free from the metal truss to which it was connected. The eight women fell 25ft to 40ft, landing on the dancer below.
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 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Centre less than two hours after the accident.
The hair-hanging stunt is described on the circus’ website as a “larger-than-life act” featuring eight female performers.
Payne said all the performers have been doing “some variation of this act for some time,” though he didn’t know how long. The current incarnation of the act began in January with the launch of the show, and performers have been doing it a dozen times a week since, he said.
“These ‘hairialists’ perform a combination of choreography and cut-ups including spinning, hanging from hoops, and rolling down wrapped silks, all while being suspended 35ft 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 shows a curtain dropping to reveal several performers hanging from an apparatus suspended from above. Seconds later, as they begin to perform, the women fall, and the metal apparatus lands 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.
Another eye witness, Rosa Viveiros, said she saw that the acrobats had fallen on top of at least one other performer below, 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. The couple attended the circus with their 6-year-old grandson and 9-year-old niece. “Everyone was in shock,” Rosa Viveiros said. “It was pretty overwhelming to see that.” The circus began performances in Providence on Friday.
Payne said the circus was working with federal and local officials to find out what went wrong and correct any problems that might exist. “We want to make sure all of our performers are safe,” he said. “An accident like this is unprecedented involving this number of performers. We’re just grateful that as of now, none of the injuries appear to be life-threatening.
Payne said Kenneth Feld, the chief executive of Feld Entertainment, and his daughter Nicole, a circus producer, flew to Providence and were at the hospital visiting with the performers.