World

Indiana stage collapse blamed on 'fluke' wind

The wind gust that toppled a stage at the Indiana State Fair Saturday night, killing five and injuring 45 others as they were waiting for the country band Sugarland to perform, was a "fluke" that no one could have anticipated, officials said Sunday.
Five people died and about 45 were hurt Saturday when a stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis as fans were waiting to see the country group Sugarland perform. (Matt Kryger/Indianapolis Star/Associated Press)

The wind gust that toppled a stage at the Indiana State Fair Saturday night, killing five and injuring 45 others as they were  waiting for the country band Sugarland to perform, was a "fluke" that no one could have anticipated, officials said Sunday.

The wind was far stronger than that in other areas of the fairgrounds, said Dan McCarthy, chief meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Indiana. He estimated the gust at 60 to 70 mph.

Some witnesses have said that while a storm was expected, rain hadn't begun to fall when the wind sent the stage rigging falling into the crowd of terrified fans.

No one was performing at the time, witnesses said. The opening act had finished, and the crowd was waiting for Sugarland to take the stage.

Indiana State Police spokesman David Bursten said a "strong gust of wind upset the rigging above the stage at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and caused a collapse of the structure over the stage."

Four people died when the collapse happened and the fifth person died overnight at a hospital, Bursten said.

The Marion County Coroner's office identified the victims as 23-year-old Alina Bigjohny of Fort Wayne, 29-year-old Christina Santiago of Chicago, and three Indianapolis residents: 42-year-old Tammy Vandam, 49-year-old Glenn Goodrich and 51-year-old Nathan Byrd. It was Byrd who died overnight.

Bursten said the injuries ranged from "very serious to cuts and scrapes."

Workers set up a command centre to tend to those who were hurt.

The collapse came as some fans were leaving to seek shelter. An evacuation had not yet been ordered. The rigging for the stage fell onto the track where some people were seated.

"It was like it was in slow motion," concertgoer Amy Weathers told the newspaper. "You couldn't believe it was actually happening."

Those who were injured were being moved to a tunnel below the stage, the Star reported.

Indianapolis Fire Department personnel and paramedics tend to the victims of a stage collapse before a concert at the Indiana State Fair on Saturday. (Matt Kryger/Indianapolis Star/Associated Press)

Associated Press photographer Darron Cummings was in the audience attending the concert as a fan shortly before the collapse. He said an announcer gave the crowd instructions on how to evacuate the area if the weather worsened, but said they hoped to get Sugarland on stage soon.

Cummings said he and his friends went ahead and sought shelter in a nearby barn after seeing the weather radar.

"Then we heard screams. We heard people just come running," Cummings told the AP.

Witnesses told WTHR that some of the injured were in a VIP section in front of the stage known as the "Sugar Pit." The witnesses said a wall of dirt, dust, rain and wind came up the main thoroughfare of the fairgrounds just before the collapse.

"Panic kicked in when they seen the dust bowl coming in from the midway," concertgoer Darryl Cox told WTHR.

Another person at the concert, Emily Davis, told WTHR that there was lightning and the sky turned dark but it wasn't raining when the wind suddenly toppled the rigging.

"It was horrible, people were running and going crazy," she said.

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