The Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera Justified and Stripped tour came to a halt after a structural failure of the supplemental rigging structure at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall. During the load-in on the afternoon of Saturday August 9th, the hall's support grid, also referred to as the supergrid, buckled and tilted downward before collapsing, crushing much of the sound, lighting, and video equipment. Even though approximately 50 people were working underneath the grid, everyone escaped without serious injury. It was reported that three stagehands were taken to the local hospital with minor injuries.
The cause of the accident, the second in three years to happen at the 75-year-old landmark hall, has not been determined. After a $90-million dollar renovation, the original support grid failed during the load-test. That grid collapsed and was replaced with a temporary grid until 2002, when the current permanent supergrid was installed.
Authorities and crewmembers have said that this past Saturday's collapse occurred as the equipment was being raised under the supergrid. The standard procedure involved lowering the supergrid first, connecting motors to it, raising the supergrid to trim height, approximately 60'-70', and then raising the show equipment.
“It was pretty scary. It is one of those things that you know that you are never going to forget,” says Don Earl, general manager of theatrical dealer Earl Girls Inc., who was working the call with IATSE Local 77. “There was kind of a ‘sproing’ noise that made everybody look up. Pieces started to slowly fall; at the time, my impression was that something in the back, upstage left, was starting to fall. It sounded like broken glass, but it was the aluminum screaming. It was a tinkling effect that kept going on and on and on. When enough weight hit the ground and took the load off, then everything stopped.”
It is estimated that the collapse only took a few seconds, but, to Earl, the time seemed longer: “At the moment it was happening, there was enough time for me to think, ‘I have to call 911’ and pull out my cell phone before it stopped, but, on the other hand, it seems like it was only four or five seconds,” he says. Earl was convinced that some of the stagehands were trapped under the falling equipment, but, he says, “When we actually took a head count and everybody looked around, we realized that everybody was accounted for.”
Authorities are conducting a thorough investigation into the incident. According to the press release from Boardwalk Hall, “An aggressive and coordinated investigation is underway to ensure the safety of patrons and staff at Boardwalk Hall and result in conclusions as to the cause of the malfunction of the grid structure.” The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority has retained an independent structural engineer, McLaren Engineering Group, of New York, to oversee the investigation process.
The investigation is focusing on the supplemental rigging structure suspended under the finished ceiling of the hall, on which the show's equipment was hung. The grid was designed by Geiger Engineers of New York and assembled and installed by Mountain Productions of Pennsylvania, and had been used successfully since its installation in 2002.
Since its installation, the grid had been periodically inspected and minor repairs had been performed under the direction of Geiger Engineers and Mountain Productions. The grid had been most recently inspected by Mountain Productions on August 6, 2003, three days before the incident. The investigation includes the following persons and agencies: Occupational Safety and Health Administration from its Marlton, NJ offices; Division of Community Affairs; and representatives of Geiger and Mountain.
As we went to press, the Justified and Stripped tour was scheduled to start up again on August 18 and run through the beginning of September. You can read about the tour starting on pg. 28.