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Aerialist in L.A. mall show survives fall

A 26-year-old aerialist in a holiday performance of "Hunky Santa and the Candy Cane Girls" at an L.A. mall slipped off a metal hoop and fell more than 20 feet as hundreds of patrons watched in horror. The aerialist was hospitalized after breaking her wrist and pelvis.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

The Christmas shopping season got off to a bumpy start at the renowned Beverly Center shopping mall in Los Angeles when an enthralling performance by an aerial troupe ended in shock and horror for the throng of shoppers.

On Monday TODAY aired dramatic footage, captured on a cell phone camera, of a 26-year-old acrobat from the Hollywood Aerial Arts company twirling while hanging upside down from a hoop three stories above the Beverly Center’s ground floor. But the oohs and aahs from the hundreds of shoppers gathered to watch the spectacle Saturday night quickly turned to gasps as the woman inexplicably lost her grip and plummeted some 20 feet.

Tragedy was averted: The woman, who has declined to be named, fell into a video projection cube on the ground floor. And while a stretcher hustled her out of the Beverly Center, she managed to crack a smile, eliciting applause from the concerned crowd, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Aerial Arts founder Ray Pierce told the Times that the performer, a veteran of the troupe, suffered injuries to her pelvis and wrist but is otherwise OK. Reports said she broke a wrist and her pelvis.

Still, it led to head-shaking among the TODAY crew. After watching the footage, host Matt Lauer commented, “That’s not a good scene at a shopping mall. They’re going to take a good look at that before they schedule anything like that in the future.”

Indeed, Pierce admitted the performers from Aerial Arts do not operate with harnesses or safety nets during their mall performances. They’ve been a part of the Beverly Center’s cheeky “Hunky Santa and the Candy Cane Girls” Vegas-style revue that’s been amusing shoppers for years with nary an accident.

“These are all world-class performers, they do this all the time,” mall marketing director Susan Vance told KTLA. “It was a human error, basically.”

But since the accident, new measures are being taken before the next scheduled performance this Friday night. Pierce told KTLA the aerialists are rehearsing with safety lines this week in advance of the next show.

Beverly Center Los Angeles Hunky Santa 2009. (PRNewsFoto/Beverly Center)

It was the second day of performances for the “Hunky Santa” show at the Beverly Center. Each year, the mall crowns its official “Six-Pack Abs Santa” — this year’s holiday hunk is James Ellis — who then leads the evening and weekend performances at the mall through Christmas Eve.

Hollywood Aerial Arts, founded in 1976 by Pierce, features both a training school for novices and a group of seasoned aerialists who perform for corporate functions, holiday shows and other events, according to its Web site.