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Cirque du Soleil star plunges to death during Florida show; company's 3rd fatality

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The incident occurred on Saturday night when Yann Arnaud, 38, fell during a performance of the show VOLTA, according to Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group. The French performance artist died of his injuries at a nearby hospital.

[MIAMI] An experienced Cirque du Soleil performer has died after plunging onto a stage during an aerial straps routine at a weekend show in Tampa, Florida, the company said on Sunday.

The incident occurred on Saturday night when Yann Arnaud, 38, fell during a performance of the show VOLTA, according to Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group. The French performance artist died of his injuries at a nearby hospital.

"It was awful. You heard all the cries of the audience. There were children there and they were freaking out," spectator Julian Martinez, who witnessed the accident, told local TV station WFLA.

Mr Arnaud had been performing in Cirque shows for 15 years and was considered one of the company's most experienced entertainers, president and CEO Daniel Lamarre said in a telephone interview.

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"We were very surprised, considering his experience, that something like that happened," said Mr Lamarre, speaking from Tampa, where he had flown to be with the show's cast. "I cannot describe to you how the people feel. It's terrible."

The death is the third fatality involving a Cirque performer in the company's 34 years, said Mr Lamarre, adding that the aerial strap act is seen as a relatively safe number.

In 2013, French acrobat Sarah Guillot-Guyard died after plunging from a high-wire in front of a horrified crowd at a Las Vegas show. The 31-year-old mother-of-two fell from a height of around 50 feet (15 metres) as she was being hoisted up toward the roof of the stage on a wire for a battle scene in the show. In 2009, Ukrainian acrobat Olexandre Jourov, 24, died from a fall during a rehearsal in Montreal.

Mr Lamarre said he could not share further details about the incident involving Mr Arnaud, a husband and father of two young children.

"We are offering our full and transparent collaboration to the authorities as they look into the circumstances of this accident," the company said in a statement, adding the last two shows of Volta planned for Tampa on Sunday have been cancelled.

Local media reports said Mr Arnaud appeared to lose his grip on a strap and fell, bringing the show to an immediate halt. Tampa police said the incident is under investigation by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

REUTERS, AFP