Failed clamp blamed for circus disaster

PROVIDENCE, RI - Eight women preforming an aerial circus act in Rhode Island crashed to the ground in front of thousands of startled spectators because the clamp failed that fastened their metal framework to the rafters of the building, authorities said Monday.

Three performers remained in critical condition Monday, a day after the framework collapsed during a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus show at Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence. The women were hanging by their hair from the metal framework when it crashed about 30 feet to the ground. About a dozen people were injured.

"We have identified a clamp that snapped that held them to the rafters, and it failed," Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare told WPRO-AM. The investigation is continuing.

A full investigation of the incident also is being conducted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in cooperation with city and state officials, Pare said in a statement.

The circus had all permits required by the city to hold the show, the statement said.

Feld Entertainment, Inc., the parent company of Ringling Bros., has two safety violations listed under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's website.

One occurred in 2007 for violating California's regulations for establishing, implementing and maintaining an injury and illness prevention program. The details of the specific action are not immediately clear, but the company was fined $375.

The second occurred in 2002 in Nevada for violating rules related to keeping the floor of every workroom clean and dry and violating rules on logging occupational injuries or illnesses. The specific details were not immediately available. The company was not fined.

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

Pare said Sunday's incident occurred during the "Hair Hangers" aerial act. He said emergency medical services were on scene at the time of the accident and that all the injured were conscious when taken to hospitals. Fire and police arrived at the scene and aided an evacuation of the crowd of more than 3,900 people, he said.

Two shows scheduled for later in the day Sunday were canceled as were shows scheduled for Monday.

"Clearly something went very wrong with this apparatus," Stephen Payne, a spokesman for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, adding that the fate of future shows would be determined by an investigation that the circus had begun. "The safety of our performers is the No. 1 priority."

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.

Video of the accident was posted on YouTube.

Performers Dayana Costa, Julissa Segrera and Stefany Neves were hospitalized in critical condition Monday morning, a spokesperson for Rhode Island Hospital said. Viktoriya Medeiros and Viktorila Liakhova were listed in serious condition, and Samantha Pitard, Svitlana Balanicheva and Widny Nevas were listed in good condition.

The names and conditions of three others injured in the accident have not been released.

"It just went crashing down," said audience member Sydney Bragg, 14, of North Kingstown, R.I. "Everyone was freaking out. We heard this huge clatter and then we just heard the girls scream."


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