PROVIDENCE, RI (CNN) – A circus act went horribly wrong in front of a big audience in Rhode Island.
The accident injured nine members of a circus troupe, along with two other people.
The lead investigator for the city’s fire department said the Ringling Bros. accident was caused by a 5-inch D-ring that snapped.
Fire investigator Paul Doughty told reporters, “It was a single piece of equipment that failed.”
The steel carabiner was part of a rig designed to hoist performers by their hair into the air above the audience, where they would perform acrobatics.
When it snapped, the rig fell to the ground to the confusion and horror of the audience.
Doughty said they are still investigating what caused the D-ring to snap.
The carabiner was rated for about 10,000 pounds, and the weight of the performers and the rig that fell was about 1,500 pounds, he said.
Doughty declined to say if the rigging appeared safe.
Providence Fire Chief Clarence Cunha said his crews would not rely on a single carabiner for safety.
First responders described a gruesome scene, with performers scattered on the floor, some suffering from compound fractures in which the bone protrudes through the skin.
Providence Police Officer Sean Carroll said, “One of the girls looked up at me and very calmly but sadly said, ‘I can’t feel my legs.”
Officials say many of those injured suffered broken bones.
Of the nine people transported to the hospital, three remained critical on Monday, three were serious and the others were in good condition, Cunha said.
A circus spokesman called the accident “unprecedented.”
“We have never had an accident like this with this number of performers injured,” said Ringling Bros. spokesman Stephen Payne. “It really is a testament to, you know, their physical fitness and skills, that the injuries were not more severe than they were.”
The Medeiros Hair-Hang Act is touted on the Ringling Bros. website as a “one-of-a-kind act … the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Andre and Viktoria Medeiros, (who) have devised and improved the mechanisms and methods making possible the myriad of maneuvers this troupe will perform for audiences.”
According to the website, “It is Andre’s attention to every detail, even welding the three different rigs that the girls hang from, that keeps his troupe safe and sound each and every time the act is presented.”
Before Sunday, the stunt had been performed publicly, without incident, about 150 times.