MIAMI - Tightrope walker Nik Wallenda promised Thursday that his show would go on, despite a high-wire accident that sent five performers tumbling 30 feet to the ground.
Wallenda said doctors told him it’s a miracle the five performers escaped more serious injuries.
During a news conference in Sarasota on Thursday morning, Wallenda said they suffered broken bones, scrapes and bruises in Wednesday’s fall, but all are expected to fully recover. One was released from the hospital after several hours, and another should be out on Thursday, he said.
The eight performers were practicing a headline act for Circus Sarasota, which opens Friday. Wallenda, in the “rudder” position and calling out commands, said he watched them tumble.
“I didn’t get much sleep last night because it kept replaying and replaying and replaying,” Wallenda said. He said he rode in the ambulance with his sister Lijana, who probably suffered the worst injuries. His aunt also was injured, he said.
“It’s been a rough couple of days,” he said. “Yesterday was the roughest day of my life and I’ve had some rough days.”
While they don’t yet know what caused the accident, Wallenda said it appears someone may have briefly “blacked out.” He said it was very warm as they were practicing, without a net below them.
“We were halfway out on the wire and a couple of people on the front got kicked around and started to lose their balance. I thought someone may have fainted. We just don’t know,” he said.
Wallenda wasn’t injured.
“He caught himself,” county spokeswoman Ashley Lusby said.
Wallenda said he spoke to doctors at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, who told him that “people don’t live from accidents like this.” Wallenda credits their athleticism, saying each performer is “limber, agile.”
Pedro Reis, founder and CEO of the Sarasota Circus Arts Conservatory, which puts on the show, said during a news conference Wednesday that nothing was wrong with the rigging but that some performers lost their balance. He said the circus will open as planned.
“The show must go on,” he said.
Beth Graves, marketing manager for The Circus Arts Conservatory, told CBS affiliate WTSP that the death-defying high-wire act that landed five performers in the hospital Wednesday may still be a part of the show when Circus Sarasota kicks off on Friday
Wallenda echoed those words, saying he and the team will keep performing to honor of the injured.
“Three words I live by: Never give up,” Wallenda told reporters on Thursday.
The group had been practicing 16 times a day, 12 feet off the ground for two months. He said they don’t use a net when training, because it “provides a false sense of security.”
While performing all over, Nik Wallenda and his family have lived in Sarasota, a mecca for circus performers since the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus began making its home in the Gulf Coast city during the winter 90 years ago.
In 2013, Wallenda successfully crossed the Little Colorado River Gorge near the Grand Canyon, which was televised by the Discovery Channel.
In 2012, Wallenda was the first person to cross a tightrope over the brink of Niagara Falls. Other daredevils have crossed the water farther downstream but no one had walked a wire over the river since 1896. He did use a safety tether for that walk.
The Wallendas trace their roots to 1780 in Austria-Hungary, when their ancestors traveled as a band of acrobats, aerialists, jugglers, animal trainers and a bit later, trapeze artists.
This is not the first tragedy strike the pre-eminent family of tightrope walkers. Patriarch Karl Wallenda died in a fall during a stunt in 1978 in Puerto Rico. Two other family members also died decades ago while performing.
Wallenda said Thursday that they will try to learn from this accident.
“I don’t know if it will affect training,” he said. “We take risks; that’s what we do. Praise God that we’re all still alive.”