Pigeon Forge — On Sunday afternoon, it was business as usual at the Smoky Mountain Opry, where the only surprises came from the magic tricks on stage. Less than 24 hours before, there was a different, far more dangerous surprise.
General Manager Michael Headla said that three minutes before the end of the performance, a technician was in a small room behind the stage operating a machine that uses carbon dioxide to create fog and effects for the show.
"It was noticed that he wasn't doing his next cue, so one of our other technicians, and followed by another, bravely and heroically went in to assist him as quickly as possible," Headla said. "To operate this particular effect, there is a valve to the CO2 line that is turned on, typically for just a brief moment, but for some reason, that valve was left open and continued to pump CO2 into the room. As it just happened last night, we're still trying to get all of our questions answered as to what exactly happened."
Even though the leak was in a contained room separated from the rest of the theater, Headla says they immediately started ushering audience members and employees out of the building as they waited for authorities to arrive.
"We activated a fire alarm which set off the lights and bells and whistles, and we were able to get everyone quickly out of the building," Headla said.
The two technicians who rushed to help were taken to the hospital and released shortly thereafter, but the initial technician remains at UT Medical Center.
"All of our thoughts and prayers go out to our tech and his family who is with him now," Headla said.
Authorities checked and cleared the entire building Saturday night, and while shows on Sunday went on as scheduled, Headla says they'll be gathering more information to make sure a leak like this never happens again.