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Wrestler Killed During WWF Event

May 24, 1999 GMT

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ With thousands of pro wrestling fans watching, a 33-year-old scion of a Canadian wrestling family plunged 50 feet to his death as he was being lowered by cable from Kemper Arena’s ceiling into the ring.

Owen Hart, who wrestled under the nickname ``Blue Blazer,″ was given CPR inside the ring as the announcer haltingly told Sunday night’s crowd the incident was not scripted.

The event was on pay-per-view national television, drawing an estimated audience of 400,000, but the fall was not shown.

The World Wrestling Federation event resumed about 15 minutes later, after Hart was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead.

``We at the WWF are saddened by the tragic accident that occurred here tonight,″ federation president Vince McMahon Jr. said. ``We have no answers as to how this happened yet. We will shortly.″

Some witnesses said the cable snapped; others said it appeared Hart was somehow disconnected from it. They said his head snapped backward when he hit one of the padded pieces of metal that hold the ropes together in each corner of the ring.

``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.″

Jesse McDonald, who was sitting near the ring, said Hart’s chin and neck hit the top rope.

Police Sgt. Patrick Witcher said investigators were trying to determine what went wrong.

``From the information we have so far, it had something to do with the harness system,″ Witcher said this morning. ``Everyone’s talking about something happening with the rigging, but it’s still under investigation.″

An autopsy was planned.

Hart’s fell during the second part of the event called ``Over the Edge.″ The TV audience was being shown clips of his career. The first part, ``Sunday Night Heat,″ was televised live on cable’s USA Network. After he fell, the camera panned through the hushed crowd of 14,000 while paramedics worked on him.

``What happened kind of was really a mirror image to a circus going wrong, with someone falling off the high wire, or falling off the trapeze,″ Chris Jericho, a star with rival World Championship Wrestling, told Toronto radio station The Fan. ``That’s the way you can sum up what we do. We’re almost a live-action circus act. And tonight one of our guys fell off the high wire, and the net didn’t catch him.″

Hart, known for his acrobatic stunts, is the son of former wrestler Stu Hart. All seven of the elder Hart’s sons went into wrestling, including Bret ``The Hitman″ Hart, a WCW star. Bret Hart canceled a planned appearance tonight on ``The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.″

``You don’t get up 60 or 70 feet in the air without being properly anchored down,″ the 83-year-old father said from his home in Calgary, Alberta. ``I haven’t talked to Vince McMahon yet, but somebody was careless or missed something or else Owen would still be here.″

The WWF is one of the biggest draws on cable and pay-per-view TV, but critics say the matches often are sexist, homophobic and violent. The WWF admits its events are more entertainment then sport.

Hart, who joined professional wrestling in 1989, had recently told a magazine that he was planning to leave it when his contract was up.

Survivors include his wife, Martha, and two young children.

``Wrestlers were openly weeping last night,″ a tearful McMahon told KMBZ-TV this morning as wrestlers boarded a plane at Kansas City International Airport for St. Louis. USA Network said the live WWF event out of St. Louis would be televised as planned tonight and would include a look at Hart’s career.

Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, a former WWF wrestler, said he was deeply saddened at the death, adding, ``It is difficult to receive news of a loss of a friend. It is even more difficult to accept when that person dies tragically and at such a young age.″