Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson heard a pop. And then theHuman Lotus Blossoms fell from the ceiling Sunday and crumpled to the floor in a pile of pain.
Standing just feet away, Iverson witnessed the most traumatic event he has ever seen under the big top.
“It is the largest accident, in terms of involving so many performers,” circus spokesman Stephen Payne said Wednesday.
Eight female aerialists in the “hair-hang” act, and a dancer below them, were badly injured when a clasp broke on the rigging and the metal frame came crashing down Sunday during the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus show at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
“When this initially happened, my heart fell into my feet. You just assumed some of them would be dead,” Iverson said in a phone interview Wednesday.
“All the elements for death were there. Their hair is hanging by this apparatus, which is several hundred pounds. There’s no real escape. They’re literally going to be sandwiched between the concrete floor and this thing hanging on them. Somebody should have been dead. I just assumed that, and my heart was gone.”
But as an entertainer, “you have to keep it together … The last thing you need is the guy in the top hat with the microphone to lose it,” Iverson said. “When I realized all of the girls were alive, I breathed. I never prayed so hard or cried so hard for something in my life, ever.”
Doctors said Wednesday that of the eight acrobats who fell from about 25 feet to the ground, two have sustained spinal injuries and only time will tell if they will be able to walk again. Seven remain hospitalized: four in serious condition and three in good condition.
Iverson said after comforting some of the women, he moved out of the way of the first-responders, then sent the audience of nearly 4,000 on an intermission. Few left, he said. The clowns came in to distract the crowd.
“At some point, “I was no good. The tears flowed,” he said. He knew from the contorted positions they were in that some of the young women were badly hurt. He approached some audience members. “I shook their hands. They were so kind.”
As the last rescue crews were leaving, “I asked the audience to please applaud the first- responders and the building personnel at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center and they gave them a rousing round of applause.”
And then, Iverson had to do something he never imagine — end the show.
“I literally had to tell and audience the show would not go on,” he said. “That seems to be contrary to what you are.”
On Thursday when the show re-opens in Hartford, “our hearts (will be) missing,” he said.
The hair-hanging act has been canceled. But the show will go on.
On Twitter: @karenleez