Circus accident: What went wrong in hair-hanging stunt?

Circus accident: Eight acrobats hanging from their hair fell on a dancer below. After the accident, the circus manage asked for prayers. Three of the circus performers are listed in critical condition in the hospital.

By , Associated Press

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    Performers in an aerial hair-hanging stunt at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, Friday, May 2, 2104, in Providence, R.I. A platform collapsed during an aerial hair-hanging stunt at the 11 a.m. performance Sunday, May 4, sending eight acrobats plummeting to the ground.
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Authorities are trying to determine what caused a support frame to collapse during an aerial hair-hanging stunt during a circus performance, sending eight acrobats crashing to the ground and onto a dancer below. At least three remained in critical condition Monday morning, hospital officials said.

The accident occurred Sunday during the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey "Legends" show during an act in which the circus says eight performers hang "like a human chandelier" using their hair.

Eight of the injured were members of the circus' Medeiros troupe, and are from the United States, Brazil, Bulgaria and Ukraine, according to the circus' website.

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A spokeswoman for Rhode Island Hospital said performers Dayana Costa, Julissa Segrera and Stefany Neves were in critical condition Monday morning. 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 in the accident had not been released.

The accident was reported about 45 minutes into the circus' 11 a.m. performance at the Dunkin' Donuts Center. 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 from which the performers were hanging came free from the metal truss to which it was connected. The eight women fell 25 to 40 feet, landing on the dancer below.

Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said officials and inspectors haven't yet determined what caused the accident. He said none of the injuries appears to be life-threatening.

Investigators from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration also were to investigate the accident.

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 Center 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 35 feet 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.

Rosa Viveiros of Seekonk, Massachusetts, said she saw that the acrobats had fallen on top of at least one other performer below.

"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. Monday's shows were canceled, as were two on Sunday.

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 Monday. "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 on Sunday night and was at the hospital visiting with the performers.

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.

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Associated Press writers Pat Eaton-Robb in Hartford, Conn., Josh Cornfield in Philadelphia and Jessica Gresko in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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