By BEN CANDEA and DEAN SCHABNER
A group of acrobats fell in the middle of a circus performance in Providence, R.I., today when the apparatus suspending them suddenly collapsed, shocking audience members.
The incident happened about an hour and a half into a performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus' egends show Blue Unit at the city's Dunkin' Donuts Center.
Eight female acrobats and one dancer were transferred to area hospitals, but others were also injured, Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said.
"Everybody's doing fine, everybody's at the hospital, everybody's conscious, everybody's doing pretty well," Roman Garcia, general manager of the Legends show, said less than two hours after the accident.
The general manager of the show said the acrobats were hanging from their hair when they fell 25 to 40 feet. He said all the injured acrobats are conscious.
"This comes as a shock, not only to the performers, but to the circus itself, and certainly to the staff here at the building," Dunkin' Donuts Center Director Larry Lepore said. "We will do whatever it takes to come to the bottom of this, make sure that when the show starts to perform again, that it's safe."
Between 15 and 20 people were injured, and nine were being treated at Rhode Island Hospital, Pare said.
"They fell from anywhere between 25 and 35 feet and so as a result of those injuries, they're being treated and at this point, it doesn't appear to be life threatening, but they are serious injuries from that height and fall," he said.
Some audience members said in the first instant when the acrobats began to fall, they thought it was part of the aerial act. But then they hit the ground.
"Their necks went forward -- it was awful," said audience member Sydney Bragg, 14. "They kept the lights off so no children could see. When the lights went on, we could see them lying there. They started lowering the screens to cover it up."
It's unclear what caused the structure to collapse.
Officials for the circus said that shows scheduled for 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. today were cancelled and full refunds would be offered.
The circus' Blue Unit, which debuted in January, is a new version of a show that the performers have been doing "for some time," Stephen Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros., told The Associated Press.
The accident occurred when the metal-frame apparatus from which the performers were hanging came free from the metal truss it was connected to, he told the AP.