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Circus resumes in Connecticut, ringmaster thanks crowd, says injured acrobats in great spirits

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HARTFORD, Conn. - The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus opened in Hartford with a rousing ovation for the group of acrobats injured during an aerial performance last weekend in Rhode Island.

Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson addressed the accident as he spoke to fans on Thursday shortly after the circus opened its eight-show run in Connecticut's capital. He thanked the circus crew and first responders for their efforts, and thanked the crowd for its support.

"Our young ladies are recovering, they're in great spirits," he said as the crowd roared with approval. "They want us to let you know, and I quote, they feel your prayers, they feel your thoughts, they feel your concerns."

The women were injured during a stunt Sunday in Providence in which they hung by their hair from a frame as a "human chandelier." A clip securing the frame to the rafters snapped, sending them plummeting about 20 feet to the ground.

During a news conference earlier Thursday, circus spokesman Stephen Payne said federal health and safety inspectors and circus officials have not identified why that clip failed.

Seven acrobats remain hospitalized, two in serious condition. The others are in fair conditions and and three have asked that their medical conditions not be made public. One of the injured acrobats was released Tuesday.

The aerial stunt won't be replaced "at this time," said Nicole Feld, executive vice-president of Feld Entertainment, Ringling's parent company. "We'll look and see how the recovery process goes," she said.

As the circus officials spoke, lionesses, tigers and a leopard could be heard roaring and growling in an area behind a curtain.

A rehearsal will "smooth the transitions" between acts to make sure the show runs smoothly without the hair-hanging act, Feld said.

Asked if a net might be used in the future, Payne said that because the act went up and down, "We're not entirely sure a net would have really added any safety feature."

Iverson said first responders in Providence "may have saved a life or two."

Payne said the margin for safety for the performance was satisfactory. "We feel that our safety standards are impeccable," he said.

Thursday's show went off without incident.

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