A 57-year-old New Zealand woman died Wednesday after being knocked over by the blast of air released from a jet engine at a beach in St. Maarten, a Caribbean island known for its main airport’s extremely close proximity to the beach.
Police said in a statement that Emergency Central Dispatch in St. Maarten, a Dutch constituent country, received the first of several phone calls reporting the incident at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, and that the victim died shortly after arriving at a hospital.
YouTube videos of tourists at the beach, clinging to a fence that runs along the intersection of an area between the shore and a runway at Princess Juliana International Airport, have racked up millions of views in some cases, and helped to award the beach a singular kind of fame.
“This comes as a shock to the community of St. Maarten because this is the first time someone has died” participating in this activity, Rolando Brinson, the director of tourism for St. Maarten told ABC News.
Brinson noted that the popular intersection of beach and runway have been around for 50 years, and that there are 16 signs up warning tourists of the potential danger caused by the planes.
Police acknowledged in its statement that “the landing and taking off of all types and size of aircrafts at the international airport of St. Maarten is well known worldwide as major tourist attraction,” and many tourists come to the island to “experience the thrills” of holding onto the airport fence and absorbing the jet blast from planes taking off.
“Doing this is however extremely dangerous,” the statement warns.
Brinson said that in the half-century that the thrill-seeking phenomenon has been taking place, the number of times people became injured enough to require a hospital visit has been less than ten.
He said that the woman was with three family members from New Zealand at the time that she died, and that it was not her first time on island, although it was her first time holding onto the fence by the airport.
Brinson said that he spent time Wednesday night with the family of the deceased, who told him that they were aware of the danger signs put up on the beach, but decided to take the risk in order to experience being blasted by the jet engine.
Brinson said that in 2012, another woman fell after losing her grip of the fence, and hit her head. She ultimately recovered from her injuries though, he said.
He said that only a minority of visitors defy the warning signs to experience being swept away by the engine blasts.
“It’s the minority -– the popular minority, since they end up on YouTube,” he said, “[they] cheat the system when the security guard isn’t looking.”