A New Zealand woman has been killed by a jet engine blast while watching a plane take off on the Caribbean island of St Maarten.
Plane spotting is a popular activity at the Princess Juliana international airport. Tourists regularly pose for videos and selfies as jumbo jets fly close overhead, with the strength of the jet blast from the planes sometimes propelling watchers on nearby Maho beach into the sea, and causing clothing and bikinis to be ripped from their bodies.
In a statement, the St Maarten police force said the 57-year-old woman, who has not been named, was “seriously injured” just after 6pm on Wednesday, after clinging to a fence close to the airport, along with several other people, as a plane took off. Police said they patrol the site on a daily basis to warn people to stay away from the “dangerous” area.
It is understood the New Zealand tourist was standing behind a fence near runway 10 when a Boeing 737 took off. The powerful jet blast propelled her backwards, where she hit her head on the concrete, the New Zealand Herald reported. She died a short time later in hospital.
Signs at the airport warn tourists to stay clear of the runway as jet blasts can cause “severe physical harm and/or death”. The airport has been described by plane spotters as both the world’s “best” and “scariest”, with a short runway of just 2,180m (1.4 miles) forcing planes to approach at low altitude.
“The landing and taking-off of all types and size of aircraft at the international airport of St Maarten is well known worldwide as major tourist attraction,” said the police.
“Many tourists come to the island to experience the thrills of the landing of approaching aircraft flying low above their heads and the holding on to the airport fence and standing in the jet blast of large aircraft taking off.
“Doing this is, however, extremely dangerous.”
Despite forceful warnings from local authorities, the airport has become a world-famous tourist attraction, with local bars displaying departure and arrival times and hundreds of people often gathering by the airport’s fences to watch.
St Maarten tourist director Rolando Brison told the Herald he had met with the woman’s family and would be reviewing security tapes to better understand what had occurred.
“While they recognised that what they did was wrong, through the clearly visible danger signs, they regret that risk they took turned out in the worst possible way,” Brison said.
“At this time I only wish to express my deepest sympathy to the family and loved ones while we continue to investigate what transpired.”
A spokesperson for the New Zealand ministry of foreign affairs confirmed a New Zealander had died at the airport.
“The New Zealand high commission in Bridgetown, Barbados, is in contact with next of kin and is providing consular assistance.”
The website spotterguide.net gives Princess Juliana international airport a nearly perfect score as a place for plane spotting, rating it four out of five for movement and photo location, and suggesting a number of beachside bars that offer a good view of the runway.
Although no one has died as a result of jet blasts at the airport before, a number of serious injuries have been reported, including two tourists in 2012 who suffered a broken leg and a head injury.
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