Investigation reveals improperly loaded clip led to circus fall

Circus has been cited for 'serious safety violation'

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, 2104, in Providence, R.I. (Photo: AP/Frank Caprio/Joe Ponte)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A federal investigation into a circus malfunction that sent eight acrobats hurtling to the ground has revealed the carabiner clip used to hold the performers was improperly loaded.

The incident happened during a daytime performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus on May 4 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence. The acrobats were suspended by their hair to a metal apparatus called the ‘human chandelier’, which detached from the rafters after investigators said a carabiner clip snapped.

All eight acrobats, plus one performer, were immediately rushed to Rhode Island Hospital, some with severe injuries.

A months-long investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) determined the carabiner clip used to support the performers was improperly loaded. OSHA revealed that in violation of the carabiner manufacturer’s instructions, the company loaded the clip by attaching two pear-shaped steel rings to the bottom, with each steel ring having three wire cables running from it to the corners of the apparatus.

“This created a tri-axial loading situation as opposed to the proper loading situation where the carabiner is loaded only at two points along its major axis,” OSHA confirmed in a news release on Tuesday.

According to Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré during an interview in May, the clip broke on the “solid part of the clip; not at the hinge.” The steel carabiner was rated for 10,000 pounds, while the weight of the performers and apparatus only totaled about 1,500 pounds, fire officials confirmed.

As a result of the investigation, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus owner, Feld Entertainment Inc., has been cited for one serious safety violation with a proposed penalty of $7,000, which is the maximum fine by law. According to OSHA, a serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

Vice President of Feld Entertainment, Stephen Payne, told Eyewitness News that the company had not yet decided if it will appeal the citation. Payne issued a statement on behalf of the company.


Although we cooperated with Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and appreciate the professionalism of the investigators who worked on this matter, we disagree with the agency’s determination that the way in which the carabiner was loaded was the sole cause of the accident in Providence. We will, however, make changes to how similar devices are rigged for our touring circus units. As of this time the company has not made a decision on any appeal of the OSHA citation. The safety of all our performers and crew members remains our top priority and we continue to extend our best wishes to all the injured performers for a full recovery.

Paré and police officials said Ringling Bros. was solely responsible for the setup and rigging of the Providence show. The circus hires riggers, including local riggers, and conducts inspections before and after each show, they said.

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