Five dead, dozens injured in State Fair stage collapse
INDIANAPOLIS - Five people were killed and at least 40 more injured when a stage collapsed at a concert at the Indiana State Fair Saturday night.
Note: This is WTHR.com's original story on the tragedy. For a more recent story and updates, click here.
The stage was set up for a concert by the country music band Sugarland at the state fairgrounds. Rigging for the stage lighting reportedly fell around 8:50 p.m., before the main act took the stage.
Indiana State Police 1st Sgt. Dave Bursten said two of the deceased victims have been identified. Police are working with the coroner's office to make identifications and notify families of the victims.
Bursten said at least 40 people were injured and transported to area hospitals, but that number did not include those who transported themselves to the hospital. He said the degree of injuries ranged from "cuts and scrapes to very serious injuries."
"There is a possibility that we could have other deaths," Bursten said. "We hope that everybody will be praying for those injured people."
Police are also concerned about victims that may have become disoriented and wandered off from the scene. Bursten said police are not looking for a specific missing person, but are looking for people that may be missing that don't know they're missing.
"We want to make sure there were no unknown victims, but we're not aware of any right now," Bursten said.
Sixteen of the victims were transported to Wishard Hospital with more expected. All on-duty personnel on the IU-Wishard campus had been called to Wishard to assist.
All the injuries to victims at Wishard are believed to be non-life threatening. Many of the injured suffered fractures and head injuries. The ages of the wounded ranged from a seven-year-old child to adults.
Eight patients were transported to Methodist Hospital and 15 more walked in to be checked out. Three people were taken to Riley Hospital.
Amid the chaos, dozens of people rushed to help those trapped in the wreckage. Among those was Jenny Chestin, a concert goer and trained nurse.
"A lot of people unconscious. Broken legs, broken arms, pretty scary. I helped do CPR on somebody, helped transport people, helped triage people out from under the trapped stage," Chestin said.
Dr. Rob Klinesiver, a critical care doctor who was sitting in the front row, said he treated a girl as young as two years old for a serious injury.
"She had a severe left arm injury, she was bleeding heavily," he said.
Rain poured down as emergency workers and Samaritans worked to free the victims. As the rain stopped, the commotion started to clear. Those that could make it out were sent to the Pepsi Coliseum for cover and the victims tried to make sense of what happened.
"The winds came, the big dust storm moved from the west and, no sooner than that, hit. The winds hit and the canopy over the stage was just like a big sail. It just picked it up, twisted it and right on top of everybody standing in front of the stage," said one witness.
Some reports stated as many as 200 people were injured from the accident, however, an official at Wishard Hospital told Eyewitness News anchor Scott Swan that number was likely too high.
"The most important thing to start out with is our heartfelt feelings with the families who have lost loved ones," Bursten said.
Tony Francis was in the second row with his wife. Francis said he is a first responder and his wife is a nurse.
Regarding fatalities, he said, "I saw at least five myself. When I left they had just lifted the master speakers and they found two more underneath that."
Francis said his wife "triaged about ten or twelve people with compound fractures, lacerations, a lot of head injuries and neck injuries."
"There was no way we could be forewarned that something like this was going to happen," said Natalie Prater, who was in the VIP area for the show.
She said she was walking out with her husband, not believing the concert could take place in the weather. After the collapse, she says they turned around to help, along with "tons of other people."
At a press briefing after the accident, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard praised first responders working at the scene.
"Everything has been very well coordinated to respond to this event," Ballard said.
He called the response "very orderly, very calm but at the same time. First responders have done a terrific job here tonight and they have the situation in hand even though it's still a bit fluid."
Indiana State Police Captain Brad Weaver expressed condolences to the families of the victims of the tragedy. He said a warning was issued to the crowd at 8:45 p.m. and the collapse occurred 10 minutes later.
Weaver said emergency crews responded to the scene and others helped lift the stage to get people out. Twelve ambulances were on the scene within 15 minutes of the collapse.
Weaver was reportedly at the event in plain clothes as a spectator.
State police say they were watching severe weather on radar and were carrying out an evacuation order when the stage collapsed.
Concertgoer Emily Davis, said that officials mentioned an evacuation plan, but never made an announcement to leave the scene. She said the accident happened very fast.
"They said, if need be, this is what we're going to do and somebody will come back out and tell you, but they didn't have time to come back out and tell us," she said.
Charlie Morgan from Hank FM, which sponsored the concert, believes it was wind shear that caused the collapse.
He says the people in the "Sugarpit", the area just in front of the stage, had closest access and bore the brunt of the falling rigging.
"I did not personally witness people leaving that area prior to the stage coming down," he said.
Weather officials said winds in the area were in excess of 50 mph, including a gust reported around 77 mph near Plainfield.
Bursten said the weather at the time of the accident "was not extraordinarily severe" and that personnel were being put into place for an evacuation, if necessary.
"There is an evacuation plan that is prepared. There were preparations in progress," he said.
"It was the most traumatic thing I've ever seen," said Crystal Wilbur, witness.
"Everybody just came in together as a team," she said, describing a scene where hundreds of people rushed in to help lift the heavy equipment off the injured.
"When the stage collapsed, it missed my foot by about a foot and a half," said a man who was at the concert. After making sure his girlfriend was all right, he said the first thing they did was try to lift the scaffolding off people who were trapped.
"It's the way it fell. There were many people that were trapped underneath it but it didn't land on everybody," the man said.
"I think the number of fatalities is going to go up," Prater said. "There was still people trapped when they were asking us to leave."
Police and fire crews believe they had everyone moved from the grandstand about an hour after the accident. A triage unit was set up near the Hoosier Lottery exhibit at the fair. Other victims are also being transported to at least two area hospitals.
Several ambulances could be seen entering and leaving the area.
Fair and emergency officials are planning a news conference for shortly after 10 p.m.
Dave Lindquist, music journalist for The Indianapolis Star, reported on Twitter shortly after the accident, "Tragedy at fair concert. Entire stage collapses on track." He also wrote that "perhaps a dozen injured people have been removed from track on stretcher-type boards."
Eyewitness News' Chuck Lofton reported from the scene that evacuation efforts were in place before the stage collapsed. High winds may have played a role in the collapse.
Photographer John Duong said at 9:30 p.m. that there were still people trapped under the stage that had collapsed.
Viewer Darryl Cox said the rigging fell on people in a VIP area in front of the stage.
"There was some kids that got hit in that and it was pretty bad," Davis said.
Sugarland released a statement around 9:45 p.m. on their Twitter account, saying, "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."
Sara Bareilles, who performed as the opening act, also posted her sentiments on Twitter.
"I'm speechless and feel so helpless. Please send love and prayers to Indianapolis tonight. My heart aches for the lives lost," she wrote.
Singer Kelly Clarkson, who performed at the fair two years ago was another musician to comment on the accident.
"Just saw video footage of the stage collapsing at Sugarland's show in Indiana. Oh my gosh that is maybe one of scariest things I've ever seen. I pray everybody on their crew and the band is okay," she wrote.
Country singer Blake Shelton, who also appears on the NBC show "The Voice," also issued a statement on his Twitter feed.
"My prayers to the people at the Sugarland concert in Indianapolis.... Absolutely shocking and hard to comprehend... Beyond belief...," he wrote.
Fair closed Sunday, memorial planned
Due to the tragedy, the fair will be closed Sunday, with only a crew of fair workers on hand to tend to the animals at the fair and other necessary tasks. The fair is expected to reopen Monday.
There will be a memorial service for the deceased victims on Monday that will be open to the public. Details of that event will be likely released later Sunday.
Red Cross offers help
The Red Cross issued the following statement early Sunday, for those who are still looking for information about loved ones involved in the accident.
"Everyone has been evacuated from the fairgrounds. For those who are still missing a friend or loved one, we have opened up our chapter located at 441 E 10th Street in downtown Indianapolis to wait for information. We have mental health professionals on hand to speak with those who need counseling."
The organization has a list of 33 people who were injured at the fair and which hospital they went to. Friends and family can call 317-684-4305 for information.