PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Investigators were looking at a snapped clamp on Monday as they try to figure out why eight circus acrobats plummeted to the ground during an aerial hair-hanging stunt, although the company that owns the circus cautioned it's too early in the investigation to blame the accident on the clamp.
"We have identified a clamp that snapped that held them to the rafters, and it failed," Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare told WPRO-AM a day after a support frame collapsed during the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus. "It snapped off. We have it, we're analyzing it, we're seeing why it happened to ensure it doesn't happen in the future. That's all part of our focus."
Two of the acrobats remained in critical condition Monday. Public safety officials had said several performers on the ground also were injured in the accident Sunday, although Stephen Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros., said Monday that only one person on the ground was injured. None of the injuries appear to be life-threatening, he said.
"The long-term prognosis is yet to be determined. From what we've learned so far, the recovery will vary," Payne said. "We are hopeful that all of these performers will achieve a full recovery and be able to return to the show at some point."
Video taken by audience members shows a curtain dropping to reveal several performers hanging from an apparatus suspended from above. Seconds later, as they begin to perform, the women fall, and the metal apparatus lands on them.
Investigators from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration are leading the investigation into the accident, with assistance from local authorities. Payne said the company is also investigating.
The act is part of the "Legends" show, during which performers hang "like a human chandelier" using their hair. Eight of the injured were members of the same circus troupe, and are from the United States, Brazil, Bulgaria and Ukraine, according to the circus's website.
The accident was reported about 45 minutes into the performance at the Dunkin' Donuts Center. It was witnessed by an audience of about 3,900, many of them children.
Payne said the metal-frame apparatus from which the performers were hanging came free from the metal truss to which it was connected. The eight women fell 25 to 40 feet, landing on the dancer below.
The hair-hanging stunt is described on the circus' website as a "larger-than-life act" featuring eight female performers. The site calls the act the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Andrey and Viktoria Medeiros. Viktoria Medeiros is among the injured.
"It is Andrey'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," the website says.
Payne said Andrey Medeiros had welded the material that was used in the apparatus the women were hanging from, but he didn't have information available about who constructed the clamp.
He said the apparatus was attached to what was basically a heavy-duty chain on a winch.
"I don't know how many connection points there were," he said.
Payne said the equipment has been used dozens of times per week since the beginning of the year, and that a circus crew had installed the equipment last week.
"Our crew that loads it in inspects it," he said. "I don't have information about when it was last inspected."
The performers generally will check their own rigging and their apparatus before each performance, he added.
A spokeswoman for Rhode Island Hospital said performers Dayana Costa and Julissa Segrera were in critical condition. Viktoriya Medeiros, Stefany Neves and Viktorila Liakhova were listed in serious condition, while Samantha Pitard, Svitlana Balanicheva and Widny Nevas were listed in good condition.
The circus calls the performers "hairialists" and says they are suspended high in the air by their hair while performing a combination of choreography and cut-ups including spinning, hanging from hoops and rolling down wrapped silks.
Rosa Viveiros of Seekonk, Massachusetts, said she saw that the acrobats had fallen on top of at least one other performer below, a man who stood up with his face bloodied. The acrobats remained still and did not get up, said Viveiros, who attended the circus with her husband, their 6-year-old grandson and 9-year-old niece.
"Everyone was in shock," Rosa Viveiros said. "It was pretty overwhelming to see that."
The circus began performances in Providence on Friday. Monday's shows were canceled, as were two on Sunday.
Payne said the circus was working with federal and local officials to find out what went wrong and correct any problems that might exist.
"We want to make sure all of our performers are safe," he said Monday. "An accident like this is unprecedented involving this number of performers."
Associated Press writers Pat Eaton-Robb in Hartford, Conn., Josh Cornfield in Philadelphia and Jessica Gresko in Washington contributed to this report.