Ringling Bros. Continues to Probe Why Equipment Failed Injuring Acrobats

The parent company for Ringling Bros. continues to investigate why a single carabiner failed on May 4 causing a group of acrobats to fall 25 to 40 feet and sustain serious injuries during a circus performance in Providence.

“It has been determined that a carabiner in the rigging failed,” Feld Entertainment Inc., the parent company to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, wrote in a statement on Tuesday. “However, we do not know at this point why.”

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The company said each piece of the equipment used in the act, known as the “hair hang,” was inspected when it was initially rigged and inspected again prior to each performance.

The carabiner used in the stunt is rated to hold 10,000 pounds, the statement said, while the total weight of the rigging and performers was less than 1,500 pounds.

The circus is now in Hartford, but the hair hang will not be part of this week’s shows. Feld Entertainment Inc. said all circus equipment will undergo inspections as the circus gets set up.

“The safety of our cast, staff and crew, as well as our guests, continues to be our highest priority,” the statement said, adding that four performers are in serious condition while another four are in good condition. One other person injured was released earlier in the week.

At a Monday press conference, Paul Doughty, a member of the Providence Fire Department, described the carabiner as a D-shaped metal ring that has a gate that opens and closes. When it snapped, the acrobats and apparatus plummeted to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center floor, landing on a dancer performing below.

The carabiner was the lone piece of equipment between the apparatus and a cable tethering the performers to the rafters. In interviews with riggers affiliated with the show, officials learned that the carabiner was inspected visually and that everything “seemed routine” before the show.

Public safety officials said they are not responsible for inspecting the show’s equipment, but one official said he would not have relied on a single carabiner.

Officials said the injuries included compound fractures, breaks, and “quite a few head injuries.” All of the injured, eight women and one man, were said to have been conscious as they were transported to a nearby hospital.

Stephen Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment Inc., said all nine performers were experienced and had performed the stunt in the past, the Associated Press reported:

All the performers have been doing "some variation of this act for some time," Payne said, though he didn't know how long. The current incarnation of the act began in January with the launch of the show, he said.

Many families with children were in attendance, and at the press conference on Monday afternoon, public safety officials expressed concerns for their well-being. In this video report from the AP, some of the witnesses recounted what they saw.

The performance was halted after the incident, and the Dunkin’ Donuts Center canceled two shows scheduled for later Sunday and both shows scheduled for Monday.

Ringling Bros. had an aerial performer die during an act about 10 years ago, according to the Providence Journal.

A 32 year-old Ringling aerial performer died in 2004 when she fell some 30 feet during a performance in St. Paul, Minn. The Associated Press reported at the time that it was the first fatal accident involving Ringling performers in at least a decade.

Material from the Associated Press contributed to this report.