PROVIDENCE, R.I. (CBS/AP) — Investigators are focusing on a failed clamp in a weekend accident at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus in Providence.
Eleven people were hurt in the incident at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center on Sunday, two of them critically.
Eight performers called “hairialists” were hanging by their hair, like a human chandelier, when the entire support frame collapsed.
The women fell 25 to 40 feet to the ground, landing on a dancer below.
Investigators are looking at a carabiner clamp, also known as a C-clamp, that held those performers to the rafters.
Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said Monday that the clamp snapped. Now they are investigating why it failed.
“There may have been additional clamps that failed,” Pare told reporters. “We don’t know if that’s the exclusive reason for the collapse, but it’s one that contributed without a doubt.,” he said.”
“This is not a criminal investigation. This is an unfortunate accident and we’ve got to get to the bottom of it so it doesn’t happen again,” Pare said.
A spokeswoman for Rhode Island Hospital in Providence said a total of 11 patients were admitted Sunday.
Performers Dayana Costa and Julissa Segrera were still in critical condition Monday afternoon.
Viktoriya Medeiros, Stefany Neves 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.
None of the injuries are considered life-threatening, a circus spokeswoman said Monday.
After the accident, which was captured by several cameras, the lights in the stadium immediately went dark, as emergency personnel rushed in to help.
The audience of nearly 4,000 people, many of them children, witnessed it.
“Everybody thought that it was part of the act, but then when they landed on the floor, and they weren’t moving – they weren’t getting up, we knew that there was something wrong,” said Rosa Vivieiros of Seekonk, who was at the show with her grandson and young niece.
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Sunday’s performance was suspended and the day’s remaining shows were cancelled. Both the morning and evening shows on Monday were also cancelled and the circus moved on to Hartford, Connecticut.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is leading the investigation.
If they find any violations, citations and fines could be issued.
The hair-hanging stunt is described on the circus’ website as a “larger-than-life act” featuring eight female performers. The site calls the act the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Andrey and Viktoria Medeiros. Viktoria Medeiros is among those seriously hurt.
“It is Andrey’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.
Stephen Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros., said Monday that Andrey Medeiros had welded the material that was used in the apparatus the women were hanging from, but he didn’t have information available about who constructed the clamp.
He said the apparatus was attached to what was basically a heavy-duty chain on a winch.
“I don’t know how many connection points there were,” he said.
Payne said the equipment has been used dozens of times per week since the beginning of the year, and that a circus crew had installed the equipment last week.
“Our crew that loads it in inspects it,” he said. “I don’t have information about when it was last inspected.”
The performers generally will check their own rigging and their apparatus before each performance, he added.
“The safety of our cast, staff and crew, as well as our guests, is our highest priority,” a spokesperson for Feld Entertainment said in a statement Monday afternoon. “We will continue to inspect all of our equipment on our touring shows, and we are replacing every carabiner on this unit before the next performance.”
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