Page last updated at 11:30 GMT, Friday, 6 March 2009

Near disaster of artist's early work

By Chris Stewart
BBC TV Newcastle

Inflatable wreckage at Travemunde
Colourspace was on a promenade in the seaside town of Travemunde

The forerunner of the Maurice Agis Dreamspace sculpture which lifted off the ground killing two women, was tried out in one German community 23 years ago. Five people were injured that day.

The sculpture was called Colourspace and those who have seen footage of the Chester-le-Street tragedy, have asked how it could happen again.

Now 77, Mr Agis, of Bethnal Green in east London, has been told he will not face a retrial over the incident, after a jury failed to reach verdict on a manslaughter charge.

He was convicted of a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act and will be sentenced on 26 March.

In July 1986, the people of Travemunde - a north German seaside town - had the opportunity to enter the Colourspace sculpture.

Enno Golnitz, a teacher who has now retired, said: "It was a summer's day that I was there and I went into this sculpture, which was like an air bed, if you can imagine.

"Inside were different colours, boxes and music playing. You went through and let the colours and music work on you.

"This was the initial idea of the whole thing and so I went in and let the colours work on me, and waited to see if I could notice anything working."

Emergency services clear inflatable wreckage at Travemunde
Five people were injured in the 1986 accident

Within minutes Mr Golnitz said it was clear something had gone badly wrong.

"I had a feeling of flying, then we fell downwards, so I spread my jacket open wide and then I felt as though the structure was ripping somehow.

"Then I held my hands and jacket out like wings and I looked to the side.

"I then saw, I think it was one person, go past me. They were curled into a ball so they fell more quickly and then there is something missing from my memory."

When he regained consciousness he found both his arms had been shattered and it took him months to recover.

Four others had also been injured in the incident.

Colourspace had lifted off the ground, when a sudden storm descended on Travemunde.

Maurice Agis
Maurice Agis will be sentenced on 26 March

The German authorities decided the weather was to blame for the injuries.

Another incident took place at the Glasgow Garden Festival in 1988.

Rex Lyons, who now runs a boatyard on the Clyde, was among those helping to stage the festival.

"Back in 1988, Maurice Agis was at the festival to place a sculpture in a dock, it had seven inflatable sections, each about the size of a hot air balloon.

"The idea was that they'd all be assembled and float on top of the water.

"He had one of these balloons inflated, and to get it onto the water, he decided to attach it to a piece of rope and then hand the rope to a man who was sitting in a rubber dinghy, who'd then take it into the middle of the dock.

"It was crazy."

Witnesses then described how a wind lifted the balloon into the air, leaving Mr Agis desperately clinging onto the rope.

He was eventually forced to let go but not before he smashed into a metal barrier running around the dock.

On the day of the Chester-le-Street tragedy Mr Agis vowed never to build anything like Dreamspace again.

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