Cirque du Soleil Death in Florida Under Federal Investigation

By Chris Marr and Bruce Rolfsen

The death of a Cirque du Soleil performer after he fell during an aerial act is under federal investigation, according to a Department of Labor spokesman.

The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened the investigation into the death of Yann Arnaud during a performance in Tampa, Fla., spokesman Eric Lucero confirmed to Bloomberg Environment on March 19.

Arnaud fell to the stage below him during an aerial straps routine on March 17, Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group said in a statement. Cirque du Soleil said Arnaud was a “long-time aerialist” who had been with the company for more than 15 years.

Arnaud was taken to Tampa General Hospital where he was diagnosed as having head and neck injuries and later died.

The company’s statement said it is “offering our full and transparent collaboration to the authorities” as they investigate.

Shows Canceled

A Tampa Police Department report said Arnaud fell between 15 and 20 feet when one of his hands slipped from the double rings he was suspended from. The stage below was a hard surface with no padding, according to the report.

Police spokesman Stephen Hegarty told Bloomberg Environment March 19 that the department is still conducting an investigation. Initial findings point to the fall being an accident, Hegarty said.

OSHA hasn’t commented on details of its inquiry. The agency has six months to issue citations or end the investigation.

Cirque du Soleil canceled the remaining two performances of its “VOLTA” show in Tampa, scheduled for March 18.

The entertainment company produces shows in Las Vegas, New York, Orlando, Fla., and Riviera Maya, Mexico, as well as touring shows that visit other cities.

Past Fatalities

Prior to the March 17 death, OSHA and its state counterparts had inspected Cirque du Soleil at least 10 times, including three inquiries prompted by accidents, according to federal enforcement records.

The most recent case involved the November 2016 death of a stagehand in San Francisco prior to start of the show “Luzia.” The technician died when an aerial lift headed down a ramp flipped on its side, striking the worker.

California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health cited Cirque du Soleil for six violations and proposed penalties totaling $46,500. The company is challenging the citations.

In June 2013, a performer in the show “Ka” at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas died after falling 94 feet during a show when the wire rope attached to her harness was severed because it was scraping against a sharp edge.

The Nevada Occupational Safety and Health Administration initially fined Cirque du Soleil $23,035 for five violations. A settlement reduced the fine to $7,000 for two violations.

Cirque Not Alone

In another circus performance accident, federal OSHA cited the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for a March 2013 accident injuring eight performers. The entertainers fell more than 15 feet as they were suspended from a twirling frame.

An OSHA investigation determined that a single steel carabiner was not able to withstand the stress of supporting the performers.

OSHA and the circus’s owner, Feld Entertainment, reached a settlement: Feld was fined $7,000 for one violation in exchange for the company implementing a safety program for aerial acts.