Tragedy struck at the James L. Knight Center in Miami moments before David Bowie was scheduled to take the stage on May 6th, when a spotlight operator plunged 50’ to his death.
Walter "Wally" Thomas, a 20-year veteran of the concert lighting industry, apparently fell to his death after not attaching his safety harness into the guide wire. The concert was abruptly cancelled and was not rescheduled as of press time. The tour’s lighting company is Light and Sound Design Fourth Phase, based in Newbury Park, CA, and the UK.
According to eyewitness accounts, Thomas fell onto the side of the stage after Bowie’s opening act, Stereophonic, finished its set and Thomas was preparing to get into position as a spotlight operator. Stagehands lowered a banner to block the scene from concertgoers, although some did witness the fall. Thomas was pronounced dead at the scene.
Two other spotlight operators were also working the concert and were wearing the OSHA-approved full-body harness required for such occasions, but they were not using the accompanying tether as it was too dark. The harness clips to a safety line from the overhead truss and takes up the slack in the tether as the stagehand climbs the ladder. Should a stagehand lose his footing, the harness engages and stops the fall.
Thomas previously had another fall that kept him off the job for 6 months in 1989 and paid him over $400,000 in workman’s comp.