Sunday, August 14, 2011

Stage collapses during Sugarland concert at Indiana State Fair, 4 dead

By Robert King and David Lindquist

The crowd was poised in anticipation, including scores of people pressed up against the stage, just seconds before country music sensation Sugarland was to perform at the State Fair on Saturday night.
Above the stage, nestled in the rigging, a crew member had taken his position, ready to shine a spotlight on the action.
But the weather near the Indiana State Fairgrounds was starting to get dicey. Backstage, State Police special operations commander Brad Weaver was watching an ugly storm moving in on radar via his smartphone. He and fair Executive Director Cindy Hoye decided it was time to evacuate the crowd.
But a minute later, when WLHK program director Bob Richards addressed the crowd, the word was that the show would go on, and that the crowd should be prepared to find shelter if things changed. Some of the crowd sensed the danger and left without further word. But the majority remained.
Seconds later, a fierce wind blew in from the direction of the midway, kicking up what one witness described as "a canopy of dust."
In a moment that eyewitnesses described as both terrifying and in slow motion, the massive rigging above the stage bearing lights, sound equipment and at least one crew member swayed menacingly and then came crashing down on the crowd.
Four people were killed and 40 were injured severely enough that they needed to be taken to local hospitals. More than 150 were treated at a makeshift triage unit at the fairgrounds itself. It was a fairgrounds tragedy eclipsed in scale only by a 1963 propane tank explosion at the Coliseum that killed 74 people.
The scope of the disaster even cast doubt -- at least as of 1 a.m. -- on whether the fair would resume today as scheduled.
Concertgoer Brittany Pangburn, 23, Carmel, saw it all happen from the Hoosier Lottery Grandstand.
Seated there with some girlfriends, she saw the dust whip up, the roof of the stage twist and then come crashing down.
In the tumult and the dust, Pangburn said all she could hear was wind -- and screams.
"It was terrifying," Pangburn said.
"It really did look like slow motion," said Jamie Roberts, 25, who came to the concert with Pangburn. "All we could do was hold hands."
Witnesses described seeing children at the scene in shock.
At Wishard Memorial Hospital, one of the places the injured were taken, ambulances stacked up outside the emergency room. Inside, people sat in wheelchairs with blood on their heads and faces as medical staff did triage.
Outside, concertgoers waiting in cowboy boots and short shorts -- the unofficial uniform of Sugarland fans -- were in tears and disbelief. Family and friends of concertgoers started jumping out of cars to look for their loved ones.
At Methodist Hospital, Jennifer McGuire, an 11-year-old Greensburg girl who had waited with her mom and sister for more than an hour to get Sugarland seats up close to the stage, said she was hit in the knee and back of the head by the falling rigging. She had blood splotches all over her clothes, including a T-shirt saying "All I want to do is hug you."
Indianapolis Star music reporter David Lindquist was in the fifth row of the Grandstand when the disaster unfolded.
"The entire stage rigging collapsed," Lindquist said. "This is bad. This is very bad."
According to Lindquist, opening act Sara Bareilles finished her set by commenting what a beautiful night it was. Less than 30 minutes later the stage set was on the ground.
"The gust of wind came, there was no rain yet and the production fell from left to right," Lindquist said. "And you could see, you could clearly see people were under the footprint of the rigging."
Emergency crews and fans quickly converged on the collapsed stage and worked to free those who were trapped, he said.
Marion County Coroner Frank Lloyd said the four victims died at the fairgrounds and were not transported to the hospital.
It took less than 20 minutes to free those who were trapped, Lindquist said, crediting fast action by everyone despite the inclement weather.
Medics and rescue crews throughout Indianapolis converged on the State Fairgrounds. Roads in and around the fairgrounds were blocked to allow ambulances to get in and out of the track area.
About 12,000 people were at the concert, Lindquist said.
The announcement from Richards, the WLHK program director, advised patrons that in the event the show needed to be stopped for bad weather, to seek shelter at the Pepsi Coliseum or the swine barn.
That advice likely prevented many injuries because some people left then, Lindquist said.
But many more remained. And it stands to reason that those least likely to leave were those who were closest to the stage, closest to the band they had come to see.
"This is as bad as it gets," a videographer for Sugarland said during the chaos that followed the collapse.
Heavy rain and winds estimated as high as 60 mph were reported from the storm after the collapse.
The grim nature of the tragedy stood in stark contrast to the music the concertgoers came to hear.
Sugarland, which mixes country and pop, serves up among the sunniest and most optimistic music on the airwaves.
Late Saturday, the band delivered a message about the disaster via Twitter: "We are all right. We are praying for our fans, and the people of Indianapolis. We hope you'll join us. They need your strength."

No comments:

Post a Comment