Investigators suspect that a snapped clip sent eight aerial acrobats plummeting 20 feet or more during a daring performance, an experience one injured performer likened to a “plunge into darkness.”
The clip – a common type, called a carabiner, that’s used for everything from rock climbing to holding keyrings – was one of several pieces at the top of a chandelier-like apparatus that suspended the performers, fire officials said. After the accident, the 4- to 5-inch steel clip was found on the ground, in three pieces with its spine snapped.
Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare stopped short of saying the carabiner caused Sunday’s accident at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus, witnessed by about 3,900 people, many of them children. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is trying to make a final determination.
“We don’t know if it was metal fatigue, if it wasn’t properly positioned or something else,” Pare said. “We just don’t know.”
Two of the acrobats were in critical condition Monday, and all eight were still hospitalized with injuries including a pierced liver and neck and back fractures, as well as head injuries. None of the injuries appear to be life-threatening, said Stephen Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, Ringling’s parent company.
The acrobats are from the United States, Brazil, Bulgaria and Ukraine, the circus said. A performer on the ground was also injured and was released from the hospital Sunday.
“We are hopeful that all of these performers will achieve a full recovery and be able to return to the show at some point,” Payne said.