Circus acrobats injured when apparatus fails in Rhode Island

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(CNN) — At least nine Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus performers were injured Sunday in Providence, Rhode Island, after an apparatus used in their act failed, circus spokesman Stephen Payne said.

Eight performers fell when the hair-hang apparatus — which holds performers by their hair — failed, Payne added. Another performer was injured on the ground, he said.

Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said the performers fell from between 25 to 35 feet.

Many of the injured people suffered broken bones, and no spectators were hurt, Pare said.

The performers were among 11 people hospitalized with injuries related to the accident, Rhode Island Hospital spokeswoman Jill Reuter told CNN. One of those people was listed in critical condition, Reuter said.

It was not immediately clear who the other victims were.

Multiple emergency units responded to the accident at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.

Eyewitnesses told CNN affiliate WPRI that they saw acrobats up on a type of aerial scaffolding doing a “human chandelier” when a cable snapped.

“We thought that was a part of the performance,” Sean Bergeron, a 23-year-old Marine at the circus with his girlfriend, told CNN. “About 35 seconds afterwards, you were like, ‘No, that’s not!’ ”

People started screaming loudly and “going crazy,” Bergeron said.

Payne told CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield the apparatus had been used for multiple performances each week since Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey launched its “Legends” show in February.

“Each and every time that we come to a new venue, all of the equipment that is used by this performer — this group of performers as well as other performers — is carefully inspected. We take the health and safety of our performers and our guests very seriously, and our company has a safety department that spends countless hours making sure that all of our equipment is indeed safe and effective for continued use,” he said.

The Medeiros Hair-Hang Act is touted on the RIngling Bros. website as a “one-of-a-kind act … the brainchild of husband and wife team Andre and Viktoria Medeiros, [who] have devised and improved the mechanisms and methods making possible the myriad of maneuvers this troupe will perform for audiences.”

“It is Andre’s attention to every detail, even welding the three different rigs that the girls hang from, that keeps his troupe safe and sound each and every time the act is presented,” the website says.

Rhode Island Hospital has confirmed that each of the eight women named by Ringling Bros. as part of the act are in the hospital: Viktoriya Medeiros, Widny Neves, Samantha Pitard, Viktorila Liakhova, Dayana Costa, Julissa Segrera, Stefany Neves and Svitlana Balanicheva.

The circus and local authorities are investigating the incident together, Payne said.

“We will do whatever it takes to come to the bottom of this, make sure that when the show goes back — starts to perform again — it’s safe,” said Lawrence Lepore, general manager of the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.

“Legends” began a short Providence residency on Thursday, Lepore said. The final five performances there were slated for 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday and 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Monday.

The early show ended with the accident, and the Dunkin’ Donuts Center tweeted around 3 p.m. that the two later Sunday shows had been canceled, with refunds available where patrons bought tickets or automatically via Ticketmaster.

Earlier, Payne had told CNN the status of the rest of the Providence shows was yet to be determined.

In June, a performer from Cirque du Soleil’s “Ka” died in an accident at the MGM Grand Resort in Las Vegas. Sarah Guillot-Guyard, 31, a Paris-born acrobat and aerialist, “was being hoisted up the side of the stage and then just plummeted down,” witness Dan Mosqueda told the Las Vegas Sun newspaper.

In October, the Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the circus and the casino for violations. Nevada OSHA fined Cirque du Soleil more than $25,000 and the MGM Grand $7,000, but both the circus and the casino appealed the findings.

Cirque du Soleil settled with Nevada OHSA in February, winnowing six citations down to one, according to the Las Vegas Sun.

By Susanna Capelouto and Mark Morgenstein

CNN’s Kristina Sgueglia, Nick Valencia, Adrienne Zulueta and Dominique Dodley contributed to this report.

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