By CHRIS KITCHING
Gayleen McEwan, 57, was holding onto a chain link fence that divides the airport and Maho Beach, where aircraft fly just above tourists’ heads as they come in to land, when she fell and hit her head.
A mum-of-three and hotel owner has been identified as the tourist who died after she was blown off her feet by the powerful jet blast of a passenger plane.
Gayleen McEwan, 57, and others were holding onto a chain link fence that divides the airport and a famous beach where aircraft fly just above holidaymakers’ heads as they come in to land.
They were watching a plane take off in the Dutch Caribbean territory of Sint Maarten when the jet blast blew her backwards, causing her to fall and hit her head on the pavement.
Witnesses rushed to her side and performed CPR and comforted her, but she died after suffering serious injuries in what her family have described as a “freak accident”.
Mrs McEwan, from Blenheim, New Zealand, was on holiday with her husband Phill and two friends when the incident occurred at Maho Beach, where signs warn visitors that aircraft jet blast can cause serious injury or death, on Wednesday.
Her sister-in-law Janice McEwan told the Sydney Morning Herald: “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.”
She added: “This just seems to be something on holiday that you do with other tourists. People do it every day. This is a freak accident.”
Mrs McEwan owned the Blenheim Palms Motel.
Thousands of thrill-seeking tourists gather on Maho Beach every day to watch planes land and take off at Princess Juliana International Airport, dubbed one of the ‘scariest’ or ‘most dangerous’ in the world due to low-flying aircraft.
Videos are regularly posted online showing tourists being blown by jet blast, with some holding onto the fence to avoid falling over, as they’re pelted with debris.
In 2012, a viral video showed a woman being blown backwards as a JetBlue flight took off. She fell and smashed her head on a concrete barrier on a road between the beach and airport fence, but survived.
After Mrs McEwan’s death, Rolando Brison, director of tourism for the island, which is divided between France and the Netherlands, told the New Zealand Herald: “I met with the family of the deceased … 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.
“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.”
Mrs McEwan and others were watching a Boeing 737 took off for Trinidad, the newspaper reported.
Aviation safety experts have told of the dangers of standing in the way of a plane’s jet blast.
Expert Peter Clark told the Herald: “People know the dangers. It would pick you up like a piece of paper.”