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New Zealand Woman Killed By Jet Blast At Princess Juliana Airport In Sint Maarten

KIWI IGNORED WARNING SIGN: Gayleen McEwan (right) of Blenheim on New Zealand’s South Island didn’t pay any attention to the warning sign telling her not to do what ended up killing her. The warning sign clearly states that death could result from being blown back onto the concrete by arriving planes at Princess Juliana Airport in Sint Maarten. (PHOTO COURTESY: Facebook)

PHILIPSBURG — A New Zealand woman has died in Sint Maarten after the blast from a powerful jet engine knocked her to the ground.

The incident happened at the famous Princess Juliana International Airport, which is just 20 feet from the sea.

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.

Danger signs

The particular stretch of beach on the Dutch island is popular with tourists, partly because the planes fly extremely low over the sand before landing.

The beginning of the runway is just 50m (160ft) from the fence on Maho beach, and about the same distance to the waterline.

There are prominent warning signs in the area instructing beachgoers not to stand near the fence because of the dangerous air blasts.

Despite the danger, a number of videos circulating online show tourists clinging to the fence to prevent being swept away – and in some cases, almost being lifted off the ground.

The island’s tourism director, Rolando Brison, told the New Zealand Herald he had spoken to the family of the dead woman.

“I met with the family of the deceased this evening 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 said.

The newspaper also said the plane taking off was a Boeing 737, a large commercial jet. A number of local media reports said the woman struck her head on concrete when she was blown back from the fence line.

In a statement, Sint Maarten police said they visit the area daily to discourage tourists from clinging to the runway fence.

“The landing and taking off of all types and size of aircrafts at the international airport of Sint Maarten is well known world wide as major tourist attraction,” police said.

“Many tourists come to the island to experience the thrills of the landing of approaching aircrafts 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.”

WELL, BLOW ME DOWN! Warning sign at Maho Beach near the Princess Juliana Airport on Sint Maarten. (PHOTO COURTESY: Terrazzo/Wikimedia Commons)

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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