Five high-wire circus performers were seriously injured Wednesday after falling at least 30 feet while practicing a pyramid stunt involving famed tightrope walker Nik Wallenda.
Wallenda, a Sarasota resident, was not among the injured, however, the incident in a Sarasota circus tent involved several of his family members, authorities said.
"He caught himself," said Sarasota County spokeswoman Ashley Lusby.
About 12:45 p.m. eight aerialists 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. 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 Sarasota Memorial Hopsital and the others to Lakewood Ranch Medical Center and Blake Medical Center.
All three brought to Sarasota Memorial were expected to survive, said Dr. Alan Brockhurst, the trauma medical director.
"They are extremely lucky given the height of the fall," Brockhurst told reporters.
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.
"We had a terrible accident here today," Reis said.
Authorities are investigating and said Wallenda may make a statement later Wednesday.
Reis said the circus will open as planned in a Big Top tent at Nathan Benderson Park behind University Town Center mall. Wallenda is billed as the headliner for the production, "Synergy."
"The show must go on," Reis said.
Wallenda, 38, is a seventh-generation high-wire artist and part of the famous Flying Wallendas circus family. He has found fame in recent years performing daredevil walks over Niagara Falls, a gorge near the Grand Canyon, between Chicago skyscrapers and across the rim of the Orlando Eye observation wheel.
Another member of the Wallenda family, Rick Wallenda, is scheduled to perform a high-wire walk for charity on Saturday at St. Petersburg's Sundial this weekend. It was not known if he was involved in Wednesday's fall.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.