Wallendas among 5 tightrope walkers injured in fall

(Courtesy: WFLA)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Five circus performers were seriously injured in a fall Wednesday when a pyramid stunt involving famed tightrope walker Nik Wallenda went awry.

The accident also involved several of his family members, but Nik Wallenda wasn’t among the injured, authorities said.

“He caught himself,” said county spokeswoman Ashley Lusby.

Eight performers were on the tightrope, practicing a pyramid stunt ahead of Friday’s opening of Circus Sarasota, when they lost their balance and most of them fell. Local media reports said Nik Wallenda was the anchor for the pyramid.

Sarasota Fire-Rescue Spokesman Drew Winchester said the group fell 30 or more feet, and four of the injured suffered trauma. Three were brought to one hospital and the other two, to other hospitals.

All three brought to Sarasota Memorial Hospital are expected to survive, said Dr. Alan Brockhurst, the trauma medical director.

“One of them currently is in operating room, two in the ICU,” he said Wednesday afternoon.

One is in guarded condition.

In this June 18, 2013 file photo, high wire performer Nik Wallenda practices in Sarasota, Fla. Five circus performers were seriously injured Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, while practicing a high-wire act in Florida. The accident involved Wallenda and several members of his family. Authorities say Wallenda was not injured. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)
In this June 18, 2013 file photo, high wire performer Nik Wallenda practices in Sarasota, Fla. Five circus performers were seriously injured Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, while practicing a high-wire act in Florida. The accident involved Wallenda and several members of his family. Authorities say Wallenda was not injured. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara, File)

Pedro Reis, founder and CEO of the Sarasota Circus Arts Conservatory which puts on the show, said during a news conference that nothing was wrong with the rigging but that some performers lost their balance. He said the circus will open as planned.

“The show must go on,” he said.

Authorities are investigating and said Wallenda may make a statement later Wednesday.

The Wallendas are considered the pre-eminent family of tightrope walkers.

This is not the first tragedy strike the family. Patriarch Karl Wallenda died in a fall during a stunt in 1978 in Puerto Rico. Two other family members also died decades ago while performing.

Nik Wallenda said he trains like an athlete and calculates his risks for every stunt.

“I respect deeply what I do and realize there’s a lot of danger in it,” he told The Associated Press during a 2013 interview in Sarasota, his Florida hometown.

In 2013, Wallenda successfully crossed a tightrope stretched across the Little Colorado River Gorge near the Grand Canyon. That walk was televised by the Discovery Channel. There was no safety net and Wallenda didn’t use a tether.

In 2012, Wallenda was the first person to cross a tightrope over the brink of Niagara Falls. Other daredevils have crossed the water farther downstream but no one had walked a wire over the river since 1896. He did use a safety tether for that walk.

The Wallendas trace their roots to 1780 in Austria-Hungary, when their ancestors traveled as a band of acrobats, aerialists, jugglers, animal trainers and a bit later, trapeze artists.