Cirque du Soleil faces $25K penalty in acrobat's death

Safety officials have announced plans to levy penalties of more than $25,000 against performance company Cirque du Soleil after an acrobat died over the summer in a fall witnessed by a Las Vegas audience.

Regulators say acrobat didn't receive proper training

The final fight scene is performed on a vertical stage during Cirque du Soleil's Ka at the MGM Grand Resort in Las Vegas. (Leila Navidi/Associated Press)

Safety officials announced plans Tuesday to cite performance company Cirque du Soleil and Las Vegas Strip casino MGM Grand after an acrobat died over the summer in a fall witnessed by the audience.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said in a statement that they've wrapped up their investigation into the June 29 death of 31-year-old Sarah Guillot-Guyard. Investigators concluded she fell 30 metres to the floor below when a wire rope she was suspended from was severed due to her rapid ascent.

"She ascended too quickly which caused the rope to come out of the sheave/pulley," said Teri Williams, spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Business and Industry. "The rope was severed when it encountered a shear point. The investigation concluded that she ascended too quickly, in part, because she did not receive proper training."

OSHA proposed six citations and more than $25,000 in penalties for Cirque du Soleil Nevada, and three citations totalling $7,000 for the MGM Grand, where the performance took place.

Among other things, OSHA reported Cirque didn't provide proper training for the performer, and didn't properly assess the workplace for hazards. MGM faces citations because its employees were exposed to hazards due to deficiencies in Cirque's hazard assessments, according to OSHA.

Appeal planned

Officials from both entities said they will appeal the decision.

"Cirque du Soleil completed an exhaustive review of its safety policies and procedures in the wake of the tragic accident involving Sarah," said Cirque du Soleil spokeswoman Renée-Claude Ménard. "We have redoubled our efforts to ensure the overall diligence and safety of our performers and crew." 

This undated photo provided by David Fox shows acrobat Sarah Guillot-Guyard, 31, who was killed after falling during a Cirque du Soleil production of Ka in Las Vegas, Nev. (Courtesy David Fox/Associated Press)

The accident occurred during a fight scene near the end of Ka, which combines acrobatics with martial arts and puppetry and tells the story of two imperial twins on a quest to reclaim their palace from evil warriors.

Visitor Dan Mosqueda of Colorado Springs, Colo., told the Las Vegas Sun Guillot-Guyard was being hoisted up the side of the stage when it appeared that she detached from her safety wire and plummeted to an open pit below the stage.

"Initially, a lot of people in the audience thought it was part of the (show)," he told the Sun. "But you could hear screaming, then groaning, and we could hear a female artist crying from the stage."

The show was cut short after the acrobat's fall, and reopened 17 days after her death.

Guillot-Guyard was the first Cirque du Soleil performer to die in an onstage accident in the company's 29-year history.

The mother of two had been with the original cast of Ka since 2006, and had been an acrobatic performer for more than 20 years, according to Cirque officials. Born in Paris, she was also the head coach at Cirquefit, a program that offers acrobatic fitness classes for children.

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