May 6, 2014 -- A faulty metal clip known as a carabiner is being blamed for an apparatus collapse that sent eight aerial performers plunging to the ground in a circus accident Sunday in Rhode Island.
“That carabiner failed,” said Paul Doughty, investigator for the Providence Fire Department. “It was a single piece of equipment that failed.”
The 5-inch steel clip is designed to support up to 10,000 pounds.
The weight of the apparatus and performers Sunday was just 1,500 pounds.
The clip was found in three pieces on the ground with its spine snapped, Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said.
“We don't know if it was metal fatigue, if it wasn't properly positioned or something else," he said. "We just don't know."
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating and will make the final determination of whether the carabiner was to blame for the collapse, he said.
There was no backup carabiner above or a net below, sending the performers falling 35 feet onto a thin rubber mat.
Melinda Hartline, a spokeswoman with Ringling Bros. Circus, said everything was followed to protocol.
“Safety is paramount. A couple of the performers have said they cannot wait to get back and perform,” Hartline said.
Windy Neves was upside down in the middle of the human chandelier at the time of the collapse. Her father, Roiter Neves, said she’s recovering.
“She’s OK, she’s doing OK,” he told ABC News. “Only a broken arm. And some fractures of the neck and the back, too.”
The high-flying, hair-raising stunt involves the performers hanging by special rings woven through the hair, a decades-long attraction at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey shows.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey says its hair-hangers take daily vitamins and use special shampoo. Flat irons and hair-dryers are off limits, as is brushing locks when wet, according to the circus' website.