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Probe done in circus accident, feds get evidence

Published: Tuesday, May 6, 2014 10:40 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Frank Caprio)
In this photo provided by Frank Caprio, performers hang during an aerial hair-hanging stunt at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, Friday, May 2, 2014, in Providence, R.I. A platform collapsed during an aerial hair-hanging stunt at the 11 a.m. performance Sunday, May 4, sending eight acrobats plummeting to the ground. At least nine performers were seriously injured in the fall, including a dancer below, while an unknown number of others suffered minor injuries. (AP Photo/Frank Caprio) MANDATORY CREDIT
Caption
(Rosa Viveiros)
In this photo provided by Rosa Viveiros, first responders work at the center ring after a platform collapsed during an aerial hair-hanging stunt at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, Sunday, May 4, 2014, in Providence, R.I. At least nine performers were seriously injured in the fall, including a dancer below, while an unknown number of others suffered minor injuries. (AP Photo/Rosa Viveiros) MANDATORY CREDIT

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Investigators in Rhode Island say they have completed an initial investigation into a circus accident that sent eight acrobats hanging from their hair plummeting to the floor.

Providence fire investigator Paul Doughty says they are turning evidence over to federal workplace safety investigators.

Doughty says that includes the three pieces of a broken carabiner clip that was one of several pieces at the top of a chandelier-like apparatus that suspended the performers during Sunday's performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus.

Doughty says they have narrowed down the cause of the broken clip to two possibilities: a manufacturing defect or improper use. He says it's up to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to determine that.

The eight acrobats are still hospitalized.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus packed up and headed for Connecticut without eight of its acrobats, who remained hospitalized in Rhode Island on Tuesday, two days after an accident during a hair-hanging stunt sent them plummeting to the ground during a performance.

Stephen Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, Ringling's parent company, said the circus inspected all of its equipment on Monday night when it loaded up in Providence and planned another inspection when it unloaded in Hartford.

Investigators suspect a snapped clip, which they found broken in three pieces on the ground, is to blame for the accident that occurred during a Sunday morning performance before 3,900 people, many of them children. The carabiner clip was one of several pieces at the top of a chandelier-like apparatus that suspended the performers, who were dangling by their hair.

When the clip snapped, the women fell 20 feet or more to the ground, and the apparatus landed on them.

Relatives and rescuers say the women suffered injuries including a pierced liver, neck and back fractures, broken ankles and head injuries. Four of the women were in serious condition and four were in good condition Tuesday morning, according to Rhode Island Hospital.

Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare stopped short of saying the carabiner was the cause of the accident. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is trying to make a final determination.

Feld said Monday that it did not know why the carabiner failed, and that it is replacing each one in the show before the next performance, on Thursday in Hartford. The hair act will not be performed there, the company said.

The equipment has been used dozens of times per week since the beginning of the year, and a circus crew had installed it last week, according to Payne. The crew told investigators the clip had been visually inspected before the show.

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