PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Local investigators have completed an initial probe into a circus accident that sent eight acrobats plummeting to the floor during a hair-hanging stunt and are turning over a broken clip and other material to federal workplace safety investigators, a Providence fire official said Tuesday.
The carabiner clip was one of several pieces at the top of a chandelier-like apparatus that was suspending the acrobats during Sunday morning's performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus before 3,900 people, many of them children.
It is not yet clear why the 4- to 5-inch steel clip broke into three pieces, fire investigator Paul Doughty said. That is up to investigators with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to determine.
Doughty said they have narrowed down the cause of the broken clip to two possibilities: a manufacturing defect or improper use. The latter could have to do with how it was installed in the rigging, he said.
"For example, it could only be used in the long directions, it can't be sideways," he said. "When you get involved with rigging, angles become very, very important."
Doughty said they would also be turning over interviews, investigators' initial findings and measurements.
The circus packed up and headed for Connecticut without eight of its acrobats, who remained hospitalized in Providence. 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. OSHA is trying to make a final determination.
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. He said the circus is replacing each carabiner 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.