Woman 'ragdolled' by jet blast warns of dangers
A Christchurch woman says she was lucky she wasn't killed after being "thrown like a ragdoll" by a plane's jet blast in Rarotonga.
Now Olivia Dowling, 38, is calling on airports to take extra precautions to stop people putting themselves in similar life-threatening situations.
Last week, Blenheim woman Gayleen McEwan was killed by a jet blast in the Caribbean island of Saint Maarten.
The 57-year-old was blown away by a departing Boeing 737 on Maho Beach, while on holiday with her husband Phill and two Kiwi friends.
Dowling said McEwan's death was an accident waiting to happen - and that the same could "easily" have happened to her.
This underground thrill-seeking tourist activity was popular on islands where the geography restricts the size of the boundary fence around the runway.
Dowling was in Rarotonga for her husband Josh's 40th birthday in June 2016 when she was told lining up for the jet blast at the island's international airport would be fun.
It had been "hyped and hyped" by other tourists, she said.
"The first day we went to go and do it there were about 30 people lined up to do it," she said.
When they were successful on their second to last day on the island, it was just Dowling and her husband.
As the plane neared them before turning around it was so close the couple and the pilots were able to wave to each other.
Dowling was then "thrown like a ragdoll", flying more than 10 metres across the grass, a road and into a nearby swamp after being unable to hang onto the barbwire fence.
"I ended with cuts, bruises, sprains and stitches and then suffered from post-traumatic depression."
A local saw the incident and took her to hospital, saving her $1000 for an ambulance, she said.
She was aware how close she came to head or neck injuries that could have killed her.
Recovery from the physical injuries took two to three months, but the ordeal still affected her mentally.
Even the sound of a plane could trigger a reaction, she said.
She said she was embarrassed and regretted what she did but she didn't realise how dangerous it would be. McEwan's death had hit home the danger and motivated her to speak up.
"Why does it take death to become knowledgeable?"
After her experience, she advised others against similar actions.
EXTRA SAFETY PRECAUTIONS NEEDED
Although Dowling said she hadn't reported the incident to authorities, she hoped airports would take extra precautions to stop people gaining access to the blast area.
There were warning signs on the fences surrounding the runways at Princess Juliana International Airport in St Maarten and at the Rarotonga International Airport.
The Princess Juliana sign read: "Jet blast of departing and arriving aircraft can cause severe physical harm resulting in extreme bodily harm and/or death."
Despite the signs, little was done to stop people gathering in the blast zone.
Dowling said no-one had been trying to stop the behaviour.
A Cook Islands Tourism video even included the thrill-seeking activity in one of its promotional videos.
The video showed an elderly man and two young boys clinging to the airport fence.
Airports usually commission research into the possible effects of jet blast to buildings and the public before building an airport or carrying out runway extensions or redesigns.
Other options like blast-proof fencing, tighter security, or fines for people who stand in the blast-zone, had also been suggested.
NOT AN ISOLATED INCIDENT
In July 2015, three tourists in Rarotonga were taken to hospital after being blown over by a jet blast, Cook Island News reported.
They were blown over while watching an Air New Zealand Boeing 777 take off.
Witnesses said the air blast from the take-off was so strong it threw the tourists to the ground injuring two of them and knocking one unconscious.
And in 2012, a woman clinging to the fence at Princess Juliana, was thrown across the road and launched head-first into the concrete kerbside.
The video of the incident remains on YouTube.
Other people have spoken of the blast burning their skin and forcing dirt into their eyes.
Stuff has contacted Rarotonga International Airport for comment.