We will recover, Nik Wallenda says after a high-wire fall at circus

Nik Wallenda and Pedro Reis at news conference.
Nik Wallenda and Pedro Reis at news conference. ttompkins@bradenton.com

Nik Wallenda recalls grabbing the high wire and holding on for dear life, but doesn’t remember how he got to the ground — he went into rescue mode after five people fell while practicing an eight-person high-wire pyramid stunt Wednesday, Wallenda said at a press conference Thursday.

“This evening, I will be performing,” Wallenda said.

He first credited Jesus Christ in making sure the circus performers made it out alive. Then, he credited their muscles.

Wallenda’s aunt and sister were two of the five who fell. Rietta, his aunt, was sitting on the shoulders of one of the men who had fallen, according to his cousin Rick. His sister, Lijana, had the worst injuries. Two other family members on the wire weren’t injured.

But Nik reassured everyone on Thursday, saying there were no brain injuries, and whatever internal bleeding there was has stopped. All five performers are expected to make a full recovery.

Wallenda reviewed what happened in what he repeatedly called a miracle of survival.

“We were halfway out on the wire, and we don’t know yet what happened,” Wallenda said. “Somebody might have fainted. ...

“We take life for granted,” he said, the emotion welling in his voice. “We are so blessed. ... Some of the best doctors in the country have flown in to take care of our family.”

One performer who was 40 feet high on the wire suffered only three broken toes, Wallenda said.

It was under the Circus Sarasota Big Top that five people had fallen about 25 feet while practicing an eight-person high-wire pyramid stunt just two days before the Circus Sarasota Synergy show opened. Sarasota native Nik Wallenda, famed circus performer and nine-time Guinness World Record holder, was the anchor to the pyramid but was not hurt. Jennifer Mitchell, the managing director at Circus Arts Conservatory, said that one family member of Nik’s was injured, but didn’t say who it was or the extent of the injuries.

All five performers are expected to make a full recovery.

There was no net, which is how they always rehearse, Wallenda confirmed. A net can be a false sense of security — his uncle bounced out of a net and died, he noted.

Circus Arts Conservatory officials repeated that this wasn’t a wire or rigging failure, like the one that had claimed the life of Nik Wallenda’s great-grandfather, Karl Wallenda, after he fell during a high-wire walk between two towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in Puerto Rico in 1978. More than 30 years later, Nik Wallenda completed the walk with his mother, Delilah.

Wallenda performances have been fatal in the past. In 1962 during a seven-person high-wire pyramid stunt at the Shine Circus at Detroit’s State Fair Coliseum , the front anchor Dieter Schepp made a bad move, plunging Schepp, 23, and Karl Wallenda’s son-in-law Richard Faughnan, 29, to their deaths. Karl Wallenda’s adopted son Mario, 22, was paralyzed from the fall.

The next year, Karl Wallenda’s sister-in-law Rietta fell 45 feet to her death while performing in Omaha. In 1972 in West Virginia, his 29-year-old son-in-law Richard Guzman died after walking on the high wire when he touched a live wire with a balancing pole, fell backward onto two electrical wires and plummeted 50 feet.

Circus Arts founder and CEO Pedro Reis told reporters Wednesday that he could not go into details of the trick, but the fall was caused by balance issues. Since this was the final act of the show, they’re considering a “plan B.”

The show opens at 7 p.m. on Friday and runs through March 5.