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Circus Performers Injured During Hair-Hanging Stunt

Rhode Island state troopers and Providence police stand in the lobby of the Dunkin' Donuts Center after an accident during the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performance Sunday.
Stew Milne

Updated at 1:55 a.m. EDT Monday:

Inspectors have yet to determine what caused Sunday's horrifying accident during a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performance in Providence, R.I.

Rhode Island Hospital in Providence admitted 11 patients with varying injuries, spokeswoman Jill Reuter told The Associated Press. One was said to be in critical condition. Nine performers were injured when a support apparatus failed during an aerial stunt, while an unknown number of others suffered less serious injuries.

The Providence Journal reports that show set for Monday morning has been canceled. The status of Monday night's performance had not been determined.

Original Post:

Nine circus performers sustained serious injuries Sunday in Rhode Island, where calamity struck a morning show by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The performers were injured when an apparatus that had been supporting acrobats 25-40 feet in the air collapsed without warning.

The performers' injuries are serious but not life-threatening, according to the Providence Department of Public Safety.

The dramatic incident at the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence came just after a curtain had been lifted to unveil the acrobats suspended over the center of the stage. A video of the fall that seems to have been posted to YouTube by an audience member shows that the apparatus suddenly fell unimpeded, drawing gasps from the audience.

A man who was in the stands tells the Providence Journal that his family left the theater area quickly, in an attempt to spare their children from the scene.

"One of the performers was crying," Othello Smith of Providence said. "It looked pretty bad."

Stephen Payne, a spokesman for Ringling Bros. parent company Feld Entertainment, says eight acrobats fell with the apparatus; at least one other person was hurt seriously when they hit the ground below. Other performers who were on the stage floor have also been reportedly hurt.

From the Providence Journal:

"Roman Garcia, general manager of Ringling's Legends tour, said in a news conference, 'Everybody's conscious. Everybody's doing well. We ask everybody to pray for the girls.'

"Garcia said the accident occurred during a hair-hanging act. The circus website lists the Medeiros Troupe as the Legends tour's eight person 'hair-hang and motorcycle high wire act.' "

Afternoon performances by the circus have been canceled. In a statement released today, Feld Entertainment says, "An investigation has begun into the cause of the accident, no further details are available at this time."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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