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Woman killed by jet-engine blast at popular Caribbean tourist attraction

This video from from Jan. 20, 2014, shows a jet blast at the beach sweeping into onlookers near the St. Maarten airport. (Video: Kai A. Hortmann via Storyful)

A tourist on the Caribbean island country of Sint Maarten was killed Wednesday after a blast from a jet that was taking off nearby knocked her into a retaining wall, police said.

The 57-year-old New Zealander had been standing at a fence that separates Maho Beach and a runway at Princess Juliana International Airport, police said. The area has become a popular, albeit dangerous, tourist attraction for those seeking to feel the powerful winds of an aircraft's jet-engine revving for takeoff just yards away.

At the time of the incident, the unidentified woman had been hanging onto the fence along with several others, according to a statement from the Police Force of Sint Maarten. As a large plane was taking off, the woman was “blown away by the jet blast and was seriously injured,” police said.

Despite immediate response from police and paramedics, the woman died shortly afterward at Sint Maarten Medical Center, police said.

Sint Maarten police spokesman Ricardo Henson told The Washington Post that it was the first such fatality, though there have been minor injuries in the past as a result of people trying to stand in the jet blast while clinging to the fence. Police do not have an official number of how many injuries have occurred at Maho Beach, he said.

The police statement acknowledged that watching planes take off and land at the Sint Maarten airport is “well known world wide as a major tourist attraction” but notes that doing so is extremely dangerous. Airport and local officials have placed signs along the airport's chain-link fence, warning them of the dangers of standing there while a plane is taking off, and officers patrol the area during busy hours, police said.

Despite the warnings, the area remains a huge tourist draw for thrill-seekers and aviation enthusiasts. Numerous videos on YouTube show beachgoers — many still in their swimsuits — lined up along a chain-link fence at the end of the airport's runway as a plane prepares to take off. The sheer force of the blasts from these jet engines can be seen blowing loose shoes, beach towels and sand straight back into the clear blue waters of the Caribbean behind them. Even those who cling to the fence can have a hard time holding on.

In 2012, two tourists were injured outside the airport after the force of a jet-engine blast blew them away. In one viral video of the incident, a girl can be seen being overpowered by a gust of wind, which slams her headfirst into a low concrete wall behind her.

Airport spokesman Damien Schmidt only confirmed that a woman had died Wednesday “as a result of injuries sustained during an unfortunate accident while an aircraft took off.”

“Further investigation by the local authorities will have to show what exactly took place; for now we cannot express enough, our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of the deceased,” he said in a statement.

St. Maarten tourism director Rolando Brison told the New Zealand Herald Wednesday he had offered his condolences to the family of the woman who died.

“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 told the newspaper. “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. … I didn't want to ask them too many questions at this time, just wanted them to know we are here for them.”

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