It was a sad day at the circus. Earlier today, hundreds of families and circus enthusiasts were privy to one of the most unfortunate catastrophes that can befall any seasoned high-risk performer. During Sunday morning’s Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus show at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, R.I., nine aerial performers were seriously injured after plummeting to the floor during the “hair hang act.” The female performers, eight aerial acrobats and one dancer, were suspended by a single piece of string in the stunt, resembling their hair, and due to some malfunction within the apparatus, the scaffolding holding them snapped and collapsed. Dangling from different heights, the ladies fell between 25-40 feet.
Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said the circus performers were in serious condition after the fall, according to the Associated Press. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey have responded that all the performers injured in the “hair hang” fall received immediate medical assistance and were taken to the nearby medical facility for further care. Since the performers were attached to the apparatus during the entirety of the event, regulations stipulated there was no need for a safety net below the suspended dancers, Payne said.
Providence Emergency Management Agency director Peter Gaynor has released a statement that no on one in the audience was harmed, and although the performers have suffered some serious injuries, none appear to be “life-threatening.”
A video caught on an audience member’s phone has been released on YouTube displaying the unfortunate collapse. One of the Ringling Bros. emcees introduces the “amazing, hair-raising” performance, the “Hair Hang Act.” The curtain drops to reveal a circle of aerial acrobats hanging high above the ground from a circulating metal disc, which is suspended by a single cable. The performers resemble a merry-go-round of dangling ballerina puppets. “Suspended only by a string!” the emcee expounds, rallying the crowd. The performers begin to swing their legs in a synchronized choreography, and suddenly, without warning, the suspension device plummets to the floor in a resounding, shuttering thud. In an instant, the performers have disappeared and everything goes still. One could easily be convinced the collapse is an illusionist’s act, especially since there are no screams from the performers.
The family-friendly audience gasps. Some scream. A child remarks to his mother whether or not this was part of the act. Everyone seems to be stunned into disbelief as they watch circus attendants rush to the fallen contraption and bring hurried aid of the buried performers. Lights quickly dim and all music comes to a halt.
The rest of the show was cancelled after the accident, and the Ringling Bros. troupe’s subsequent afternoon and evening shows have been delayed until a later date in order to investigate the injuries and incident further. Leading the investigation is The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, along with help from city officials, Mr. Gaynor said. Since many of the 4,000 in attendance at the Ringling Bros. Circus were children, authorities say resources will be available to anyone who witnessed the formidable crash and are still in shock.
The video of the fall is embedded below. Some viewers may find the footage too disturbing:
By Stacy Feder