Video: Victims of Indiana stage collapse remembered

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    >> victims of that deadly stage collapse at the indiana state fair was remembered with a silence of moment since the fair opened for the first time since the accident. this as the investigation into it unfolds. nbc's ron mott is at the fair grounds this morning. good morning.

    >> reporter: good morning. investigators will try to pinpoint exactly what part of this stage structure failed. family members of the victims and others are questioning whether more should have been done keeping people safe. the stage during a storm fell ominously and now questions are being raised about why concert goers were never told to seek shelter as dark, ominous clouds approached the fairgrounds. but on monday, as the fair reopened, the focus was on the fallen five.

    >> let us pray.

    >> reporter: flowers marked a memorial, prayers and a moment of silence offered to honor their lives. but governor mitch daniels choked back tears, both for the victims and the response from the crowd saturday night, what the governor described a hero every ten feet.

    >> i cannot tell you how proud i am to be the employee of 6.5 million people like that. and i bet you share that pride, too.

    >> reporter: 51-year-old spotlight technician nathan byrd, a father of two working high up in the rigging when it collapsed was the pride of his family. his brother brian is haunted by what ifs.

    >> you know, these people are just as remorseful for losing my brother as i am, you know. but i just wish, like i say, that when they knew the storm was coming, you know, i just feel like maybe he might have had a chance.

    >> reporter: forecasters predicted a rough night across the region, although the unpredikd ikt for thunderstorms had the potential for producing hurricane force wind gusts left plenty of uncertainty.

    >> moving at 35 miles an hour west to east as it was moving toward the fair grounds and down the track and over the stage. once it got to this point it accelerated and moving off at 60 miles an hour.

    >> reporter: the head of the state fair said officials was tracking the storm closely hours before it hit but said it arrived before they could make an evacuation announcement. the spectators had been warned of the threat.

    >> as dark as that cloud was, we were on our way back stage to get up on stage and announce to ask people to seek that shelter now, that the storm was approaching quicker than we had anticipated.

    >> reporter: still, the storm system that triggered the stage collapse prompted another outdoor venue 15 miles away to evacuate its audience. waiting to hear the enindianapolis symphony orchestra .

    >> reporter: he said this will be structured and systematic and like everyone else, she wants answers, too.

    >> ron mott in indianapolis. thank you very much.

updated 8/16/2011 8:02:32 AM ET 2011-08-16T12:02:32

Nathan Byrd was known as a daredevil, a wiry stagehand who would take on jobs no one else wanted. But one thing scared him: the quality of the canvas roof covering the stage at the Indiana State Fair.

"He said it scared the crap out of him all the time," said Randy Byrd, his older brother.

Byrd was working 20 feet above the stage Saturday night when a wind gust estimated at 60 to 70 mph toppled the roof and the metal scaffolding holding lights and other equipment. The stage collapsed onto a crowd of concert-goers awaiting a show by the country group Sugarland.

Byrd and four others were killed. Twenty-five people remained hospitalized Monday.

As the fair reopened Monday after a memorial service attended by some 500 people and Indiana's governor, investigators and the families of the dead and injured were still seeking answers to hard questions: Was the structure safe? Why were the thousands of fans not evacuated? Could anything have been done to prevent the tragedy?

Video: Victims of Indiana stage collapse remembered (on this page)

State fair officials have not said whether the stage and rigging were inspected prior to Saturday's show. Fair spokesman Andy Klotz said initially that the state fire marshal's office was responsible for inspections, but he backtracked Monday, saying he wasn't sure whose job it is.

A spokesman for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security said neither the fire marshal nor Homeland Security officials conduct inspections. And the city does not have the authority to inspect items on state property.

"We do have our own requirements within the city for temporary structures, and we do have our own permitting requirements," said Kate Johnson, spokeswoman for the Indianapolis Department of Code Enforcement. "But in this situation, we don't have that authority because it's state-owned property."

As they investigate, inspectors for the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration will be looking at the weather and any potential structural or design flaws in the stage, among other things, experts said.

Another emerging issue is whether fair organizers responded quickly enough to forecasts of an approaching storm, especially since a different concert nearby was canceled because of the weather.

Just 15 miles north in the suburb of Fishers, about 6,700 people attending a performance by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra were evacuated Saturday from the Conner Prairie Amphitheater.

Tom Ramsey, the orchestra's vice president and general manager, said the group reviews information from a private weather company and consults with the National Weather Service, with a goal of giving patrons at least 30 minutes to get to their vehicles if bad weather threatens.

Video: Officials investigate state fair stage collapse (on this page)

"We saw a storm that contained lightning dip south a little bit. Once we saw that, I made the decision to stop the concert and send everyone to their cars," he said.

At the fairgrounds, concert-goers and other witnesses said an announcer warned them of impending bad weather, but there were no warnings to clear the area.

Fair officials said the stage that collapsed is erected at the start of the fair each year to provide a framework on which performers can add their own lights or other features. The roof can be raised or lowered based on the act.

Fourth stage accident
Saturday's accident was at least the fourth stage accident since the start of July. Earlier this month, wind blew over a lighting rig at a music festival in Tulsa, Okla., and lightning toppled a stage under assembly near Quebec City. That followed a summer gale that toppled a stage in July at a music festival in Ottawa, Canada, where the band Cheap Trick was performing. Three people were hospitalized.

In 2009, another Canadian storm knocked over a stage in Camrose, Alberta, killing one person and injuring about 75. And that same summer, a stage failed at Quebec City comedy festival.

The owner of the company that installed the rigging in Indianapolis expressed sympathy for the families of those killed or injured. A telephone message seeking comment from a spokesman for Mid-America Sound Corp. was left Monday by The Associated Press.

Industry standards do not spell out exactly how concert organizers should react when unexpectedly severe weather hits an outdoor event using a temporary stage, but they do specify that a safety plan should be in place.

"You have to figure out what are you going to do if some extreme weather event comes up and exceeds what you're designed for? What's your operational plan? How do you get people out of the way? How do you lower the roof?" said Karl Ruling, the technical standards manager for PLASA, a professional trade association for businesses that install equipment for entertainment venues.

"Obviously this is not how they planned it," he said. "But how it ended up being wrong, I don't know."

Bill Gorlin, vice president of McLaren Engineering Group's Entertainment Division, has spent roughly 15 years engineering high-end shows from Super Bowl performances to Lady Gaga concerts.

Gorlin said he is trying to get states and localities to adopt standards that would set building codes for how much temporary structures — like the stage that collapsed Saturday — can handle. Factors such as wind-load — a measure of how much a stage can handle before it is blown over — should be accounted for by state and local officials, he said.

Gorlin also worked on a panel established by the American Society of Engineers to look at what standards should be used for temporary structures like stages.

Most of the building standards used by the entertainment industry require the development of weather-management plans and set guidelines for whether parts of a stage can be dissembled or broken down.

Ruling said he would prefer the industry adopt the PLASA standards and police itself, but said it would be acceptable if states adopted PLASA standards. He said he's against states writing their own codes, saying lawmakers can't do as good a job as those in the business.

The search for answers in Saturday accident was almost certain to last for months.

IOSHA spokesman Chetrice Mosley said investigations must take into account many variables.

"When we do an investigation, it's across the board. We look at the structure, the blueprints and all of the companies involved. We do interviews with employees as well as spectators, and we'll work closely with state police," she said. "So there are a lot of areas that we review before we make a determination."

The fair reopened with a memorial service to honor the victims of the collapse. Gov. Mitch Daniels said the tragedy has broken the hearts of the state's residents.

"Our first job is to get back in the business of living, get back in the business of the state fair and back in the business of caring for each other," he said.

The fair canceled all concerts scheduled for the grandstand this week and is exploring the possibility of moving later concert events to other venues, NBC affiliate WTHR-TV reported, as officials began the long process of sorting out what happened.

Daniels ordered flags at the fairgrounds flown at half-staff in honor of the victims.

Four of the victims died at the scene: Alina Bigjohny, 23, of Fort Wayne; Christina Santiago, 29, of Chicago; Tammy Vandam, 42, of Wanatah; and 49-year-old Glenn Goodrich of Indianapolis. Byrd died overnight.

Daniels has called the accident an "unthinkable tragedy" and said the wind burst was a "fluke" that no one could have foreseen. Dan McCarthy, chief meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Indiana, said the gust was far stronger than those in other areas of the fairgrounds.

The seemingly capricious nature of the gust was evident Sunday at the fair, where crews placed a blue drape around the grandstand to block the view of the wreckage. A striped tent near the grandstand appeared unscathed, as did an aluminum trailer about 50 yards across from the grandstand. The Ferris wheel on the midway also escaped damage.

First Sgt. Dave Bursten of the Indiana State Police said the lack of damage to structures on the fair's midway or elsewhere supported the weather service's belief that an isolated, significant wind gust caused the rigging to topple.

"All of us know without exception in Indiana the weather can change from one report to another report, and that was the case here," he said.

Bursten said fair officials had begun preparing in case they needed to evacuate visitors for the impending storm. Additional state troopers had been moved to the grandstand to help in the event of an evacuation, according to the Indiana State Police.

Story: Sugarland tweets condolences after stage collapse

Concert-goers and other witnesses said an announcer warned them of impending bad weather but gave conflicting accounts of whether emergency sirens at the fair sounded.

"It's pathetic. It makes me mad," said groundskeeper Roger Smith. "Those lives could have been saved yesterday."

Fair spokesman Andy Klotz said the damage was so sudden and isolated that he wasn't sure sirens would have done any good.

Meteorologist John Hendrickson said it's not unusual for strong winds to precede a thunderstorm, and that Saturday's gust might have been channeled through the stage area by buildings on either side of the dirt track where the stage fell, at the bottom of the grandstand.

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