A New Zealand woman has died on the Caribbean territory of Sint Maarten after a powerful jet engine blast knocked her to the ground.
The incident happened at the famous Princess Juliana International Airport, which is just metres from the beach. Beachgoers can walk up to the airport fence as planes take off. Police said the 57-year-old woman had been holding on to the fence before the force of the jet engines threw her backwards, causing serious injury. She was taken to hospital for treatment, but died later.
Sint Maarten police spokesman Ricardo Henson told The Washington Post that it was the first such fatality. But there have been minor injuries in the past as a result of people trying to stand in the jet blast while clinging to the fence. Police do not have an official number of how many injuries have occurred at Maho Beach, he said.
The airport at St Maarten is often known as one of the most dangerous in the world - for spectators, if not for travellers - thanks to the location of its runway with a public beach at one end, and a mountain at the other.
Planes – including double-decker 747s – must approach by skimming over the beach, which is heavily populated. And the ability to get so close to the runway makes it a huge draw for tourists and “avgeeks” (plane enthusiasts), who flock to take photos.
Between the beach and the airport is a public road. Despite warning signs and requests from the airport to stay away from the runway, the notices themselves have become popular selfie spots, and visitors regularly congregate by the fence to feel the blast from planes as they take off.
St Maarten Tourist Bureau director of tourism Rolando Brison said further measures were being discussed “to ensure that this isolated incident remains the sole of its kind on the island”.
“I met with the family of the deceased... and 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,” he told the New Zealand Herald.