Horror at the circus as acrobat falls to his death

A double investigation has been launched into an accident in which a Russian trapeze artist was killed while performing at a circus in the Irish Republic.

The acrobat fell to his death when his elaborate apparatus failed and gave way at a show in the village of Scariff, Co Clare. He is thought to have died instantly.

His wife, who was his partner in the act, broke her arm in the incident, which happened on Monday. It was witnessed by an audience of 200 people, more than half of whom were children enjoying a treat before this week's return to school after their holidays.

The apparatus involved a mechanical platform and a cage suspended from a balloon. Some of those watching initially thought the fatal plunge was part of the act but the audience were quickly ushered out when it became clear that a death had taken place.

One woman said: "We were all sitting down and they were doing their act. They were up fairly high, but they were doing fine. Next thing he was down on the ground."

The 26-year-old man and his wife, 24, came from Russia, travelling with the Royal Russian Circus. Investigations have been launched by police and the Health and Safety Authority. Yesterday, locals called at the site to express sympathy and leave flowers.

Circuses remain popular in Ireland, regularly criss-crossing the country and setting up both in urban and rural areas.

A spokesman for the circus, Tom Courtney, said the act had originally been developed by the woman's father, who had trained the young man to take over from his. It was the first year they had been performing the act. He added: "It's a sad, tragic accident because these were young people," saying members of his family were being flown from Russia to Ireland.

He said of safety arrangements: "We're in charge of the tent and all that, but their props are their responsibility because they are familiar with them. Nobody can interfere with their props - it's a rule in the circus that every artist looks after his own props."

Tom Beegan, the chief executive of the Health and Safety Authority, appealed for vigilance from employers and employees, saying that 70 people had lost their lives in Irish workplaces last year. Speaking of safety in places such as circuses, he said: "In the entertainment business there are various levels of risk. Indeed members of the public go along because of the very fact that it is surprising and it is difficult, and there is a risk element associated with it.

"So there's no way we are saying that should be eliminated, but in any workplace there are control measures, and... in this case something went terribly wrong."

It was the second death in a week in the entertainment industry. On Saturday, a man was killed in an accident in an amusement park in Tramore, Co Waterford. The Dubliner died on the ghost train.

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