CNN.COM report May 24,1999

Owen Hart falls 50 feet while being lowered into ring

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- A World Wrestling Federation wrestler was fatally injured when he fell 50 feet into the ring as he was lowered from the ceiling of the arena -- stunning the sold-out crowd that initially thought the accident was a stunt.

Owen Hart, 33, hit his head on a turnbuckle. Hart, who wrestles under the nickname "Blue Blazer," was given CPR in the ring in front of the audience at Kemper Arena Sunday and then taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

It wasn't immediately clear how Hart fell, but witnesses said the cable he was connected to either broke or became disconnected. The WWF said it was investigating.

"We thought it was a doll at first," said 15-year-old Robert McCome. "We thought they were just playing with us. We were really shocked when we found out that it was no joke." Briannen Wilbanks, 20, said "he [Hart] came down on some type of cable or rope. He was supposed to swing down but somehow he fell." Commentator Jim Ross repeated over and over to the 14,000 fans in the arena that Hart's fall was not scripted, as professional wrestling matches openly are.

"I didn't see it, but from what I can gather, somebody slipped up," said his father Stu Hart, an old-time wrestler. "You don't get up 60 or 70 feet in the air without being properly anchored down," he said, adding that his son had performed the stunt with the wire before.

The event was televised live on pay-per-view and seen around the United States. However the fall was not shown. The TV audience was being shown a montage of Hart's clips when the accident occurred and the camera panned through the crowd while paramedics worked on Hart. The show stopped for 15 minutes, then the remainder of the matches continued after Hart was taken away by paramedics.

Hart's fall happened in the second part of the event called "Over the Edge." The first part of the event, "Sunday Night Heat," was televised live on the USA cable television network. "We at the WWF are saddened by the tragic accident that occurred here tonight," Vince McMahon Jr., chairman of the WWF, said at a news conference. "We don't have any answer as to why this happened ... There is an ongoing investigation." He declined to comment further.

Shawn Gaitan, 24, who brought his 7-year-old nephew to the event, said: "I think it's really messed up that they kept on with the show. They could at least have told us what was going on. We worry just like the other people worry."

Gaitan said he saw Owen flying through he air; his head hit a turnbuckle and snapped back. Hart, a native of Calgary, Alberta, is the younger brother of World Championship Wrestling wrestler Bret "The Hitman" Hart. He was the youngest of 12 children. Survivors also include his wife, Martha, and two young children.