Force Of Jet Blast At Blow Away Beach On Saint Martin Dealt New Zealand Hotelier To Her Death
by Heather Cassell
A New Zealand hotelier was killed in a “freak accident” at “Blow Away Beach” on Saint Martin Wednesday, July 12.
It is the first such death at this dangerous but popular tourist attraction, says Sint Maarten police spokesman Ricardo Henson, reports The Washington Post.
Gayleen McEwan, 57-year old owner of Blenheim Palms Motel (78 Charles Street, +64 3-577 8845, blenheimpalmsmotel.co.nz) in Blenheim on New Zealand’s South Island was vacationing with her husband Phill and two New Zealand friends on the Caribbean island.
“She was having a fantastic holiday,” says Janice McEwan, Gayleen’s sister-in-law.
Like many thrill-seeking travelers, Gayleen, a mother of three, ignored the signs posted and the police patrols and lined up along the fence separating Maho Beach from the Princess Juliana International Airport when the Boeing 737 revved up for takeoff.
However, the force of the blast proved too strong for her. She lost her grip on the fence and was blown into one of two concrete walls that separate the airport and the beach.
The Emergency Central Dispatch received calls around 6 p.m. local time that an incident happened on Beacon Hill Road, near the airport runway at Princess Juliana International Airport, according to the Police Force of Sint Maarten Facebook post about the incident.
Emergency responders reacted quickly, but Gayleen “was not responding very well,” according to the police.
Gayleen was immediately taken to the Sint Maarten Medical Center where she died due to the injuries she sustained shortly after her arrival, the police state.
“We’re just in shock. She was having a fantastic holiday. That’s what makes it harder, she was having a good time on holiday and then this happens,” Janice tells The Sydney Morning Herald about how the family in Marlborough was responding to the news.
“The family is just trying to support one another at this stage, that’s all we can do,” she continues, stating that the family had no idea the couple “would be watching the planes fly in low over Maho Beach,” reports the newspaper.
“This just seems to be something on holiday that you do with other tourists. People do it every day. This is a freak accident,” she adds.
The family is making arrangements to bring the Gayleen’s body back to New Zealand.
Authorities are investigating the incident.
Airport and Saint Martin tourism officials expressed their sympathies for the family.
“We cannot express enough, our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of the deceased,” says Airport spokesman Damien Schmidt.
Saint Martin tourism director Rolando Brison added, “We are here for them.
“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,” Rolando tells the New Zealand Herald. “I only wish to express my deepest sympathy to the family and loved ones.”
Rolando says that further measures were being discussed “to ensure that this isolated incident remains the sole of its kind on the island,” reports The Sydney Morning Herald.
Blow Away Beach
Maho Beach, also known as “Blow Away Beach,” because of its proximity to the airport runways.
The beach is located at Sint Maarten, on the Dutch side of the island known as Saint Maarten. The French side is known as Saint-Martin.
The end of the airport runway and Maho Beach are separated by a two-lane road and two low concrete walls, one between the lanes on the road and the other wall where the road meets the beach.
There’s a plethora of videos documenting the experience on YouTube that show beach towels to shoes being peeled off people as they cling as tightly as possible to the fence as the jets take off down the runway.
The other popular beach pastime is to take jumping pictures that make it appear that the tourist can touch a plane as it’s landing due to the planes flying so low.
In 2012, a young woman was seriously injured as she was blown from the fence and landed on a concrete barrier.
There have been other minor injuries in the past due to people clinging to the fence attempting to stand in the jet blast, reports the Post.
Police don’t have an official number of the injuries that have occurred at Maho Beach, the newspaper reports.
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