Photo: Wikimedia/Flickr user Terrazzo
A 57-year old woman from New Zealand was killed on Maho Beach late Wednesday afternoon (July 12), after being blown off her feet by a jet blast from an aircraft taking off.
The beach is world famous to aviation enthusiasts and plane spotters, because of its extremely close proximity to St Maarten Princess Juliana Airport and the many large aircraft that service the field.
As an aircraft positions for takeoff, people will hold a fence while watching from behind the plane as it roars down the runway. It is an experience known as ‘fence surfing’.
According to the report, the woman was doing just that when she was blown over and hit her head on a concrete block; likely the sidewalk curb or small retaining wall.
The aircraft involved in today’s incident was a Boeing 737 owned by Caribbean Airlines, headed for Trinidad.
There have been previous incidents at Saint Maarten airport where people injured themselves at the beach while ‘fence surfing’. In 2012, a viral video showed a young woman losing her grip on a fence and smashing her head into the concrete retainer wall.
It’s not uncommon for people on the beach to be tossed around by the jet blasts. It is part of the typical ‘avgeek’ experience that has made the tourist destination so popular. This is the first known incident though in which someone has been killed at the field by jet blast.
Jet Blast from a departing aircraft can be particularly dangerous. Depending on the distance from the aircraft, the blast can be strong enough to flip cars, vehicles and people. The danger area for a 737-sized aircraft can extend up to 1200 feet behind the aircraft.