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Two performers in circus accident suffered spinal injuries

PROVIDENCE – Two of the performers injured Sunday in a circus accident at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center suffered spinal cord injuries, Rhode Island Hospital officials said today.

A third performer involved in the “human chandelier” act, in which women hang by their hair, had a spinal fracture, but not a spinal cord injury, officials said.

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Nine people were hospitalized after the accident. Two have been discharged; seven remain in the hospital. Of those seven, four are in serious condition and three are in good condition, doctors said.

Officials said 17 operations had been performed on eight patients. Five patients had open fractures; one had a lacerated liver. Officials did not identify which performers had which injuries or operations.

“I don’t know if all of them are going to be acrobats [again],” said Roman Hayda, an orthopedic surgeon who worked on the injured.

At the same time, officials said they were impressed by the performers’ determination to put their injuries behind them as quickly as possible.

“These patients, these performers have been truly inspirational,” said Rhode Island Hospital President Timothy Babineau at a press conference this morning.

The incident took place during a performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus at this city’s main indoor auditorium as the acrobats were suspended by their hair from a ring.

Eight people hanging from the “chandelier” fell; one person below was also injured.

According to Providence public safey officials, a 4-inch carabiner fastener failed, plunging the apparatus -- and the women -- 20 feet to the floor of the center.

The fastener, which helped support an umbrella-shaped frame that suspended the performers, was found in three pieces on the ground, Providence fire officials said. Investigations are underway.

One of the acrobats, Samantha Pitard, told The Associated Press after being released from the hospital Tuesday that she hoped to perform again.

Pitard said it had been a normal performance. The curtain dropped to reveal the eight women suspended in the air, but something went wrong when they did their third leg position.

‘‘We heard a huge crack, huge noise, and then we were just plummeting to the ground,’’ she told the AP. ‘‘It was very fast. I remember everything.’’

The 350-pound chandelier landed on them. Pitard said rescue crews got to them quickly to free them from the apparatus, then gave them medical attention.

‘‘I was sitting up, and once I caught my breath, I was looking at all the girls,’’ she said in the AP interview. ‘‘I wanted to know that everybody was OK. I saw my troupe leader, she was right next to me, and I heard her say that she couldn’t feel her legs.’’

Martin Finucane and John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.
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