A fallen PA at Pukkelpop. Photo: Lander Merckpoel
Hasslet, Belgium (August 19, 2011)--Five people died and 140 people were injured, 10 criticially, when tents and numerous stages’ rigging collapsed at Belgium’s Pukkelpop festival during a violent thunderstorm Thursday night.
The festival, served by multiple production vendors, saw its Chateau Stage’s tent collapse when trees fell on to its rigging. A dining tent, video screens and other temporary structures fell, with some stages, such as the Shelter stage, sustaining unspecified damage.
An estimated 60,000 people were onsite when the storm hit. In the wake of Thursday's disaster, the festival has been cancelled, and extra buses and trains have been brought in to help festival-goers leave.
Founded in 1985, Pukkelpop is a three-day event, held in Hasslet, 50 miles east of Brussels. A popular stop on the European festival circuit, this year’s line-up included Eminem, Foo Fighters, 30 Seconds to Mars, The Offspring, Fleet Foxes and others.
The Stageco Group issued a statement in the wake of the disaster: “Everyone at Stageco is deeply saddened by the tragic deaths at Pukkelpop, and we would like to convey our deepest sympathies to family and friends affected. Stageco stages remained structurally sound throughout the storms which so badly affected other tented structures at the festival. Stageco and our staff continue to support Pukkelpop’s organisers to minimise the risk and ensure the site is safe for the public and people working at the event.”
Other production vendors involved in Pukkelpop this year included The PowerShop, which provided all power for the event, and Belgium-based SR company, EML Productions.
Tom Bilsen, operations director at Stageco and president of the Belgian Event Suppliers Association (Besa), told regional newspaper HLN that his organization had campaigned for tighter government regulation in recent times, noting, “In other countries like the Netherlands, [there are] more systematic controls.” He added, "In Germany and England…there is an on-site inspection agency and calculations." Bilsen stated his company’s staging was built to meet German standards.
Smith Westerns, a rock act from Chicago playing its first show of a two-week European tour, was performing on the Chateau Stage when the tent collapsed, crushing the band’s gear as the musicians ran for their lives. Frontman Cullen Omori said in a statement, “We had just finished the first song of our set at Pukkelpop when the stage/tent started shaking and simply thought it was a storm passing through. I made a comment about Cheap Trick and we were about to play the next one when our tour manager yelled at me to run off the stage. Right then the tress collapsed one foot in front of [guitarist Max Kakacek]. At this point, we thought only the stage broke, not the tent. Amid the chaos, it was hard to tell exactly what had happened, but after the rescue teams started coming in it became clear that there were severe injuries and we are now being told there are reports of multiple deaths. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families who lost loved ones in today's tragedy.”
The Pukkelpop disaster marks the fourth weather-releated concert rigging collapse this summer. On Saturday, August 13, five people died when a Granstand stage fell just prior to a Sugarland concert at the Indiana State Fair. On August 8, a Flaming Lips show at Tulsa, OK’s Brady Block Party was cancelled just before showtime when 80 MPH winds hit the venue, felling a 15-foot video wall and tearing off roofing. And on July 17th, a stage roof collapsed just after Cheap Trick cut its performance short at the Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest in Canada.
Pukkelpop Dining Tent Collapses
Pukkelpop Dining Tent - Alternate View (NSFW Language)