Performers suffered broken bones, head injuries in circus accident

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May 5, 2014, 10:26 am
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A snapped, five-inch metal loop is to blame for an accident that caused eight circus acrobats to plummet to the ground during an aerial hair-hanging stunt on Sunday in Providence, Rhode Island.

Providence Fire Chief Clarence Cunha said at a press conference Monday that a carabiner, or D-ring, that attached the apparatus to a cable broke, causing the performers to drop to the floor.

"I would imagine the company inspects those carabiners. We don't inspect them. The fire department does not inspect that material," said Cunha, who added that no one in government is responsible for checking the metal loops.

Providence Firefighters Local 799 President Paul Doughty said circus officials told them the equipment was visually inspected prior to the performance as part of their regular routine.

Cunha praised the response efforts of emergency officials.

"The men and women of the Providence Fire Department performed perfectly at this incident," "he said. "We followed our mass casualty SOP to the letter, and we had all the patients out of the building within a half an hour, which is remarkable time."

The incident took place 45 minutes into Sunday's Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus show at the Dunkin' Donuts Center. Nearly 4,000 people, including numerous children, were on hand to witness it.

"Hanging by their hair, and they kind of just rocked back as if their feet were going to go up above their heads, almost, and they just fell," said Brittany Drane, who was in the audience with her children.

Three performers were critically injured during the "human chandelier" act, though none of the injuries are believed to be life threatening.

A Rhode Island Hospital spokeswoman said Monday that performers Dayana Costa, Julissa Segrera and Stefany Neves were in critical condition on Monday. Viktoriya Medeiros and Viktoria Liakhova were in serious condition, and Samantha Pitrad, Svitlana Balancheva and Windy Nevas were in good condition. Rafinha Nunes, who was dancing below when the acrobats came crashing down, was also injured but has been already discharged.

Later Monday afternoon, Feld Entertainment said in a statement that two performers remain in critical condition.

"Basically the injuries were a lot of fractures, bone breaks, we had quite a few head injuries, and internal injuries, obviously," Chief Cunha said. "A few of them were compound fractures, a few plain fractures." All of the patients were conscious, he said.

Providence Firefighter Paul Doughty said the performers were "very lucky" the injuries weren't worse given that one of them was upside down on the apparatus at the time.

Investigators from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration are examining Sunday's accident, along with local authorities.

"Within the next 24 hours, I believe that, with the help of OSHA, the state and local officials will have a good idea of what failed and what needs to be changed for not only this performance, but performances going forward," Dunkin' Donuts Center GM Lawrence Lepore said.

Many people initially thought the accident was part of the show. Arena lights went dark to try to shield the public from what happened. Many families said they were disturbed by what they saw.

The circus has been coming to Providence for more than 40 years. It is owned by Feld Entertainment, and the Dunkin' Donuts Center said the circus has its own riggers.
Monday's 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. performances have been canceled, and officials say there won't be another performance until they determine that everything is safe.

The circus is scheduled to move on to Hartford, Connecticut starting May 8. According to Feld Entertainment, the hair hang act will not be performed and other aerial acts will undergo an inspection for safety before they perform.

Refunds are available at at the Dunkin' Donuts Center website.    

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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Tags: rhode island, Providence, Ringling Bros., Providence fire, Circus, ringling brothers, Barnum & Bailey, circus accident, Clarence Cunha, Paul Doughty
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