Clown acrobat crushed to death during performance

Hot-air balloon got caught on fire, broke, and crashed an clown acrobat who was performing at that time, police and witnesses said Tuesday.

The accident at the touring Royal Russian Circus happened Monday night in Scariff, County Clare, a village in western Ireland, in front of about 100 people, most of them children. Police identified the dead performer as a 26-year-old man from Belarus but didn't release his name, AP repotrs.

Witnesses said the man, dressed in a clown outfit, was hanging from a cage that was being suspended from a hot-air balloon inside the canvas tent. When the balloon exploded in flames, the cage crashed to the ground on top of the man. They said circus workers struggled to lift the cage off the man, but he was pronounced dead at nearby Ennis General Hospital.

The man's wife, who was also performing at the time, suffered a broken arm, police said.

"We were all sitting down and they were doing their act. They were up fairly high, but they were doing fine. Next thing, he was down on the ground," said one witness, Hazel Harrington. She said many people in the audience initially thought the falling cage was part of the act.

About a half-dozen local circuses, employing mostly Eastern European performers, tour Ireland each summer.