A 57-year-old New Zealand tourist died when the blast from a Boeing 737 knocked her off her feet and hit her head on the rocks as she was sent tumbling down a famous Caribbean beach.
She was among several tourists who held on to the fence surrounding Princess Juliana International Airport on Saint Martin, where watching the low-flying commercial aircraft arriving and departing has become something of an attraction on the island.
It’s an attraction that’s frowned upon by airport authorities, who’ve posted signs warning that injury and even death can result from the blast of flights landing and taking off.
The director of tourism for the island of St Maarten, Rolando Brison, told the New Zealand Herald that he spoke to the family of the woman. passed on his condolences to the family for their loss when he met with them shortly after the accident occurred.
“I met with the family of the deceased this evening and while they recognized 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 just hours ago.”
The island is also famous for being territories of two different nationalities — French and Dutch. The airport is located on the Dutch half of the island.
St-Martin / St Maarten is a popular yacht and cruise ship destination because of its shopping, nightlife and cultural activities. But it’s ots airport for which the island has gained notoriety. The Herald reported:
Aviation commentator Peter Clark said jet blast was “incredibly dangerous”, particularly if someone was standing behind a large aircraft.
That particular runway was “very restrictive.”
Clark said it was 2300m long – an “average” length runway – and planes would fly directly overhead of beachgoers.”
There’s less than 50m from the end of the runway to the water. It’s a normal runway but it’s just very much, it’s a very tight runway . . . the planes come right over that beach, virtually to touch down.”
He said thrill seekers liked to stand by the end of the runway so the jet blast could throw them into the water.
“People know the dangers,” he said. “It would pick you up like a piece of paper.”
An example of the force is depicted in this 2012 incident of a young woman thrown against the rocks by an aircraft’s blast.
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