Emergency personnel attend to circus performers injured in
the fall. REUTERS/Aletha Wood
A mid-air circus apparatus with acrobats suspended from
it collapsed during a Rhode Island performance, injuring up to
20 people, nine seriously, and shocking a packed house of
The all-female team with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum &
Bailey Circus crashed up to 40 feet (12 meters) to the floor
when the rig tethering them by the hair gave way at the
Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence.
The acrobats hit the ground just after starting their "hair
hang" performance and the ringmaster telling the audience,
"Suspended only by the strength of ...," according to a video
The performers did not scream as they fell, but there was a
"collective gasp" from onlookers who were unsure at first
whether the collapse was part of the act, said spectator
Aletha Wood, who was at the show with her two children and
took the video.
Stephen Pare, the Providence public safety commissioner, said
15 to 20 people had been hurt, with nine treated at Rhode
"They're in critical, but expect (it) to be
non-life-threatening injuries, a lot of broken bones, etc.,"
he told reporters.
A hospital spokeswoman gave different numbers, saying 11
people were treated in the emergency room and seven were
The women fell between 25 and 40 feet (8 and 12 meters), and
a performer on the floor was also badly injured, fire
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 single cable."
Stephen Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, the parent
company of Ringling Brothers, 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
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
suspended 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.
The Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health
Administration said in a statement that its inspectors were
at the scene to determine if there had been any violations of
Payne, the Feld spokesman, said the company was working with
authorities and its safety team to find out what happened and
to make sure the apparatus was safe.
"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," he said in an email.
Ringling's other two shows for Sunday were canceled, along
with the 10:30 a.m. show on Monday.
Lee Kaplan, a product liability lawyer in Houston, said the
fact that hundreds of spectators witnessed the accident
opened up the possibility of claims being filed on behalf of
children who could have been traumatized.
Kaplan said possible defendants ranged from the circus to the
maker of the apparatus. He said performers often signed
waivers that would limit their ability to sue the circus.
Tom Lyons, a Providence lawyer, said injured performers could
file a workers compensation claim against the circus. If a
defective product was involved, they may have a claim against
the manufacturer, he said.
In 2011, Feld Entertainment paid $270,000 to settle charges
by the Department of Agriculture that Ringling animals were
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.