By Victoria Cavaliere
By Ross Kerber
PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island (Reuters) – Investigators probing the collapse of a rigging at a Providence, Rhode Island, circus that badly injured nine performers and stunned the audience were focused on Monday on a clamp that snapped, a city official said.
Eight acrobats remained hospitalized, two in critical condition, following the Sunday incident, when the rig holding them hanging by their hair collapsed in front of an audience of about 3,900 people, including young children.
“We have identified the clamp that snapped that held them to the rafters and it failed,” Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare told WPRO-AM radio in Providence on Monday.
Pare could not be reached immediately to elaborate. But officials from Feld Entertainment, which owns the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, said it was too soon identify the cause of the collapse.
“The comments by the commissioner in Providence are premature at this point,” circus spokesman Stephen Payne said. “We hope to release more information at the conclusion of the investigation into what caused the accident.”
In addition to the two performers in critical condition, three were in serious condition and three others in good condition, according to a spokeswoman for Rhode Island Hospital, where the acrobats were brought after the collapse. Another performer was treated and released on Sunday.
“The injuries were severe on some of the performers, but none appear to be life threatening at this time,” Payne said in an e-mail. He added that the circus’ remaining performances in Providence, all scheduled for Monday, had been canceled.
The all-female team fell about 40 feet to the floor while performing the so-called “chandelier” act, hurting one performer on the ground and stunning the audience, some of whom were initially unsure if the drop was part of the act.
Video of the act showed the women falling quietly, without screaming. The lights were dimmed right after the drop.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration was investigating the cause of the collapse on Monday, a spokesman said.
“As with any OSHA inspection, its purpose will be to determine whether or not there were any violations of workplace safety standards in connection with this incident,” said the spokesman, Andre Bowser, adding that the agency could not estimate how long its investigation would take.
A woman who identified herself as an executive of Feld said on Twitter that she had visited some of the injured performers.
“Was able to visit some of our injured performers last night,” Nicole Feld, an executive vice president of the company said. “In complete awe of their strength and spirit.”
The company’s other productions include Disney On Ice, off-road motorcycle racing and monster truck shows.
In 2011, Feld Entertainment paid $270,000 to settle charges by the Department of Agriculture that Ringling animals were mistreated.
The American Society for the 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.
(Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner in New York; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Tom Brown)