Blenheim woman was 'having a fantastic holiday' before jet blast killed her

Gayleen McEwan, right, with her daughter Kelly McEwan.
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Gayleen McEwan, right, with her daughter Kelly McEwan.

A New Zealand woman was watching planes take off at a beach and enjoying her holiday when a "freak accident" killed her.

Gayleen McEwan, 57, of Blenheim, was on holiday with her husband Phill and two Kiwi friends when she was knocked over by the blast of a jetliner leaving St Maarten in the Caribbean.

The mother-of-three was fatally injured after being blown away from the departing Boeing 737.

Maho Beach, St Maarten, where Gayleen McEwan was killed when a jet blast threw her from a fence.
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Maho Beach, St Maarten, where Gayleen McEwan was killed when a jet blast threw her from a fence.

Sister-in-law Janice McEwan said family in Marlborough were still in shock.

Read more:
Kiwi woman killed watching plane take off on Caribbean island
Maho Beach in the Caribbean, where tourists go for plane spotting and sun bathing
* Island landings: Visiting Maho Beach in St Maarten

"We're just devastated, that's the word that comes to mind. We're still taking it all in," she said.

Warning signs at Maho Beach in St Maarten.
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Warning signs at Maho Beach in St Maarten.

"The family is just trying to support one another at this stage, that's all we can do."

Gayleen McEwan was the owner of Blenheim Palms Motel on Charles St.

Arrangements were being made to bring her body back to New Zealand.

"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," the sister-in-law said.

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McEwan said the family had no idea the couple would be watching the planes fly in low over Maho Beach and into the airport.

"This just seems to be something on holiday that you do with other tourists. People do it every day. This is a freak accident."

St Maarten police said McEwan was one of several people holding on to the airport fence during the take-off of a large jet aircraft.

When paramedics reached the scene, the woman was "not responding very well". Reports from local media said she hit her head on concrete.

Airport and other local authorities had taken all necessary measures, such as erecting signs to warn the public not to stand in the path of the jet blast because of the danger, police said.

"Police patrols on a daily basis visit that area during the busy hours to warn persons to stay away from that area during take off."

St Maarten Tourist Bureau director of tourism Rolando Brison said further measures were being discussed "to ensure that this isolated incident remains the sole of its kind on the island".

The end of the airport runway is separated from Maho Beach by a two-lane road. Numerous pieces of footage on YouTube show people holding onto a chain link fence between the end of the runway and the road. There is also a low wall, apparently made of concrete, between the lanes on the road, and another wall where the road meets the beach.

In 2012, a young woman was seriously injured as she was blown from the fence and landed on a concrete barrier. 

 - Stuff

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