5 hurt in Florida circus high-wire fall in what Nik Wallenda calls ‘roughest day’

florida circus accident
Five injured in circus high-wire fall
01:36 - Source: Bay News 9

Story highlights

Daredevil Nik Wallenda was uninjured during rehearsal for high-wire act

"If somebody loses a balance ... then something can go wrong," official says

CNN  — 

A rehearsal for a dramatic eight-person pyramid went horribly wrong, injuring five high-wire circus performers who tumbled about 25 feet, officials in Sarasota, Florida, said.

Renowned daredevil Nik Wallenda, a member of the famed aerialist family, was among three performers on the wire who were not injured Wednesday. He and two others grabbed the wire and didn’t fall.

Four performers were hospitalized as trauma patients. Three suffered broken bones, Wallenda said Thursday at a press conference. He said his sister suffered the most serious injuries.

“Without question yesterday was the roughest day of my life,” Wallenda said.

One of the performers was expected to be released later Thursday, he said.

Dr. Alan Brockhurst, medical director of Sarasota Memorial Hospital’s trauma center, said Wednesday that two performers were listed in critical condition and one in guarded condition.

“They’re extremely lucky, given the height of the fall that they survived,” said Brockhurst, who said one had a traumatic brain injury

The hospital hasn’t responded Thursday to an update on the performers’ conditions.

‘The show must go on’

Eight were rehearsing Wednesday in preparation for the show, said Pedro Reis, founder and CEO of Circus Arts Conservatory, which presents Circus Sarasota. The show opens Friday.

Circus officials said the rigging did not collapse nor did equipment fail.

“If somebody loses a balance … then something can go wrong,” Reis said. “And I would say basically that’s what happened, that they lost their balance, because it’s all about balance on the high wire.”

Wallenda said he thinks one person may have fainted.

He will perform Thursday night with some of the other performers involved in the accident.

Reis said he was thankful no one was killed.

“The circus is resilient. The circus people are resilient. The show must go on,” Reis said.

Troupe aimed for new heights

Wallenda – who wowed audiences when he crossed tightropes over landmarks such as the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls and the downtown Chicago skyline – was the anchor at the back of the pyramid, according to Reis.

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Nik Wallenda: Live every day like my last
04:02 - Source: CNN

Reis said the trick is difficult and involves a lot of momentum. The Wallenda troupe had rehearsed the stunt several times, circus officials said.

The pyramid has been performed before, but not at the height the performers practiced, about 20 to 25 feet, Reis said.

Jennifer Mitchell, Circus Arts Conservatory’s managing director, said it is “a Wallenda tradition” not to use a net for high-wire acts.

“We take safety very seriously at Circus Sarasota. We make sure safety precautions are adhered to,” Mitchell told reporters.

She added: “Despite that diligence within our industry, accidents do happen.”

The pyramid was to be the grand finale for Circus Sarasota’s 2017 winter production, which is called “Synergy.” Mitchell said officials are deciding what the finale will now be. The circus still plans to present a high-wire act.

Wallendas part of circus tradition

The Wallenda family is a rich part of circus tradition. In 1948, members created a seven-person pyramid, which became their trademark.

Some performances, though, have been tragic.

In 1962, two troupe members died and one was paralyzed after a performer lost his footing as the Flying Wallendas attempted the seven-person pyramid in Detroit.

In 1978, Karl Wallenda, one of the original performers, died on a high-wire walk between two towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

CNN’s Amanda Watts and John Couwels contributed to this report.