(USA Today) -- At least nine performers were seriously injured Sunday during a high-wire circus act in Providence, R.I., officials said.
Stephen Payne, a spokesman for Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus, said aerialists were performing when a metal-frame they were hanging from tore loose from a metal truss. Eight women fell 25 to 40 feet, landing on a dancer on the ground. The show was canceled, as was a show scheduled for 3 p.m.
"Clearly something went very wrong with this apparatus," Payne said, adding that the fate of future shows would be determined by an investigation that the circus had begun. "The safety of our performers is the number one priority."
Performers during an aerial hair-hanging stunt at the circus on May 2 in Providence, R.I.(Photo: Frank Caprio, AP)
Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said none of the injuries appeared to be life-threatening. He said it was unclear exactly what happened. Local authorities were investigating, Pare said.
Video of the accident, which can be frightening to watch, has been posted on YouTube.
The New England Cable News, citing city fire officials, said the chain of events may have begun when a high wire snapped.
The Providence Journal said several additional people may have been less seriously injured in the accident shortly before noon.
Roman Garcia, general manager of Ringling's Legends tour, told the Journal the accident occurred during an act where eight women form a human chandelier hanging by their hair.
"Everybody's conscious. Everybody's doing well," he said. "We ask everybody to pray for the girls."
Othello Smith told the Journal that his family left the building shortly after the accident — before the show was canceled — because they didn't want their young children watching the aftermath. "One of the performers was crying," he said. "It looked pretty bad."
Smith said the performers were spinning on ropes or cables when they fell.
"They just dropped," he said. "It happened so fast you didn't really believe it happened."