Indiana State Fair stage collapse: Was it preventable?
As authorities investigate whether the deadly collapse of a stage at the Indiana State Fair this past weekend was preventable, an official timeline brings the question into sharper focus.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said it did not appear that such a tragedy could have been predicted. "I'm not clear how anyone could have foreseen a sudden, highly localized blast of wind," he said.
But Mike Smith, senior vice president of AcuWeather Enterprise solutions, told Rolling Stone he thinks the tragedy could have been prevented, if not the stage's collapse. "Everyone keeps saying that this was a fluke — that it couldn't have been foreseen," he said. "It was quite forseeable. The State Fair should have had someone making a call that if a weather warning was issued, the area would have been evacuated immediately."
The Indiana State Police has released a timeline showing that fair staff and the National Weather Service were in touch several times Saturday afternoon and evening.
As early as 7 p.m., the National Weather Service advised fair staff that a thunderstorm was expected at the fairgrounds between 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Eastern -- and that it would include, among other things, heavy rain and strong winds. (Most of Indiana, including the fairgrounds, is in the Eastern time zone.)
At 8 p.m., weather service officials said the storm would arrive at the fairgrounds at approximately 9:15 p.m. and that it would contain 40 mph winds.
At 8:30 p.m., additional Indiana State Police officers moved to the grandstand to help already-on-site personnel and security workers in the evacuation of concert attendees.
At 8:45 p.m., concertgoers were warned that bad weather was on the way.
The stage collapsed at 8:49 p.m. after a gust of wind 60 to 70 mph came through the fairgrounds.
And now, of course, an investigation is underway, with state fire marshals and the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration leading the way.
Mid-America Sound Corp., which set up the stage at the fairgrounds, is launching an investigation as well.
“This is a devastating tragedy, and we want to express our sympathy to the families of those who were killed or injured Saturday night at the State Fair. We have already started an independent internal investigation to understand, to the best of our ability, what happened," said Kerry Darrenkamp, owner of Mid-America Sound.
But the company will not be talking about what it learns -- not for now at least. “Since the investigation, led by the Indiana State Police, is still active, we cannot publicly discuss any details related to the incident at the State Fair,” said Myra Borshoff Cook, spokesperson for Mid-America Sound.
-- Deborah Netburn
Photo: Patrons view a memorial in front of the Grandstand at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis on Monday. The memorial is set up for those who were killed when a stage collapsed Saturday night. Credit: Darron Cummings / Associated Press