5 hurt in Florida circus high-wire fall; Nik Wallenda unhurt

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.

Four were listed as trauma patients, according to a tweet Wednesday afternoon from the Sarasota County government.

Renowned daredevil Nik Wallenda — a member of the famed aerialist family — was among three performers on the high-wire who were not injured, according to Pedro Reis, founder and CEO of the Circus Arts Conservatory.

Reis said the eight were rehearsing in preparation for Circus Sarasota’s Friday opening. Reis said rigging did not collapse.

“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 — who wowed audiences when he crossed tightropes over landmarks like the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls and the downtown Chicago skyline — was the anchor at the back of the pyramid, according to Reis. Wallenda did not fall, Reis said.

Reis said the trick is difficult and involves a lot of momentum. The artists performed the pyramid flawlessly during rehearsals on Tuesday, he said.

The pyramid has been done before, but not at the height the performers practiced, about 20 to 25 feet, Reis said. The performers typically work without a net.

Three performers were being treated at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, where two were listed in critical condition and one in guarded condition, said Dr. Alan Brockhurst, medical director of the hospital’s trauma center. The three are expected to survive.

“They’re extremely lucky, given the height of the fall that they survived,” Brockhurst said.

Those being treated at Sarasota Memorial suffered mostly orthopedic injuries, and there was one traumatic brain injury, Brockhurst said.

Sarasota County Fire Chief Michael Regnier said one patient was taken to Blake Medical Center in Bradenton, which has a trauma center, and another performer was taken to Lakewood Ranch Medical Center, also in Bradenton. He did not have information on their medical status.

Reis said he was thankful no one was killed.

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

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