The all-female team with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey
Circus crashed up to 40 feet to the floor when the rig tethering
them by the hair gave way at the Dunkin' Donuts Center in
The acrobats hit the ground just after starting their "hair hang"
performance with the ringmaster telling the audience, "Suspended
only by the strength of ...," according to a video posted online.
The performers did not scream as they fell, but there was a
"collective gasp" from the 3,900 onlookers who were unsure at first
whether the collapse was part of the act, said spectator Aletha
Wood, who attended the show with her two children and took the
Providence Fire Chief Clarence Cunha said eight women and one man
were seriously hurt, with injuries ranging from head wounds to
A spokeswoman for Rhode Island Hospital gave different numbers,
saying 11 people were treated in the emergency room and seven were
Wood said the collapse stunned the audience.
"It was a pretty packed house," she said. "There was a metal disc
hanging from the ceiling and it looked like it was being held by a
Stephen Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, the parent
company of Ringling Bros., said that because the performers were
attached to the equipment and could not let go of it, a safety net
was not required.
Wood's video showed the equipment and the performers at the start of
the show hidden by a cloth cover lit by blue and red lights.
The cloth fell away to reveal the acrobats dressed in sequined
costumes and hanging from a circular canopy apparently suspended by
a cable. One of the performers was hanging beneath the rest.
The structure then suddenly crashed to the floor. Workers and
emergency personnel rushed to the acrobats, with a gurney arriving a
couple of minutes later, after lights were dimmed.
A police spokeswoman said Ringling Bros. got the required city
permits for the show, but the circus was responsible for its rigging
The accident is being investigated by the U.S. Occupational Safety
and Health Administration, state fire marshals and the city.
"Safety is our top priority, not just for our performers but also
for our crew and all the families who come to see a Ringling Bros.
performance," Feld spokesman Payne said in an email.
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Ringling's other two Sunday shows were canceled, along with Monday's
10:30 a.m. show.
As hundreds of spectators witnessed the accident, that opened up the
possibility of claims being filed on behalf of children who could
have been traumatized, said Lee Kaplan, a product liability lawyer
Possible defendants ranged from the circus to the maker of the
apparatus, Kaplan added. Performers often signed waivers that would
limit their ability to sue the circus, he said.
Injured performers could file a workers' compensation claim against
the circus, said Tom Lyons, a Providence lawyer. If a defective
product was involved, they may have a claim against the
manufacturer, he added.
Besides Ringling Bros., Feld Entertainment's productions include
Disney On Ice, off-road motorcycle racing and monster truck shows.
In 2011, Feld Entertainment paid $270,000 to settle charges by the
Department of Agriculture that Ringling animals were mistreated.
The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals agreed in
2012 to pay $9.3 million to Feld Entertainment to settle a lawsuit
brought by the company in response to dismissed legal claims that
Ringling mistreated elephants.
(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson, Svea Herbst, Sharon Bernstein
and Casey Sullivan; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Mohammad Zargham,
Sharon Bernstein, Eric Walsh and Clarence Fernandez)
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