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Cirque du Soleil Denies Safety Harness Failed in Fatal Fall

Coroner, OSHA to investigate Cirque safety procedures

The Cirque du Soleil performer who died in an onstage fall Saturday night did not slip out of her safety harness, says a spokesman for the company.

“At this point in time, I can’t confirm exactly what happened. But I can confirm that she did not slip out of her harness,” said Cirque spokesperson Renee-Claude Menard of the accident that claimed the life of veteran aerialist Sarah “Sassoon” Guyard-Guillot.

Guyard-Guillot fell some 50 feet during the climax of Saturday night’s performance of “Ka” at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. It was the first onstage fatality for the famed acrobatic troupe.

If Guyard-Guillot’s harness did not fail, the safety line that held her aloft could be a factor in her death. Christopher Tierney, a performer in the Broadway production of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” (a show that used aerial stunts similar to Cirque du Soleil) fell some 30 feet into a pit below the stage after his line was not attached properly. Tierney suffered near-fatal injuries but eventually returned to the show.

John Fudenberg of the Clark County Coroner’s office told Variety: “We’re going to be working with OSHA and investigating this tragic accident.

“There is certainly safety apparatus that is used during any Cirque du Soleil show, and I know that company is very safety-conscious. We have to make sure we inspect the safety harnesses and we’ll work with OSHA to do some of that.

“Our priority is to find out how this happened. We have to know exactly what failed so we and OSHA can make recommendations on what should be done and how to prevent this from happening again,” added Fudenberg.

Dan Mosqueda of Colorado Springs, Colo., was in the audience at Saturday’s performance of “Ka” and told the Las Vegas Sun Guyard-Guillot was being hoisted up the side of the stage when she plummeted to an open pit below.

“Initially, a lot of people in the audience thought it was part of the (show),” he said. “But you could hear screaming, then groaning, and we could hear a female artist crying from the stage.”

The show momentarily continued, then stopped. Minutes after the accident, a recorded announcement informed audience members that refunds or vouchers to future shows would be offered, and the crowd was dismissed.

Press reports say Guyard-Guillot died in an ambulance and was pronounced dead at 11:43 p.m.. Cirque officials are working with authorities investigating the accident and have offered their full cooperation, according to a statement from the company.

Performances of “Ka” have been cancelled until further notice.

Guyard-Guillot was 31 and the mother of two young children. The Paris native was trained as an acrobat and aerialist at Annie Fratellini Art & Circus Academy and had been a performer for 22 years. She was head coach for the “Cirque Fit” fitness program for kids. She had been with “Ka” for its entire run.

Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte said in a statement: “I am heartbroken. I wish to extend my sincerest sympathies to the family. We are all completely devastated with this news. Sassoon was an artist with the original cast of Ka since 2006 and has been an integral part of our Cirque du Soleil tight family. We are reminded, with great humility and respect, how extraordinary our artists are each and every night. Our focus now is to support each other as a family. “

Guyard-Guillot was the first Cirque du Soleil performer to be killed in an onstage accident but not the first to die while working for the company. In 2009, 24-year-old Ukranian acrobat Oleksandr Zhurov was killed in a trampoline accident during training for a Cirque show.

The Las Vegas Sun also reports that a performer in the new “Michael Jackson One” show at Mandalay Bay suffered a mild concussion after missing a protective pad and landing hard onstage.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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