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Thursday, January 27, 2022

5 schoolchildren killed in fall from bouncy castle in Australia

🔴 It was one of the deadliest bouncy castle episodes in recent years.

By: New York Times | Melbourne |
December 17, 2021 8:39:24 am
Emergency services personnel work the scene of a deadly incident involved with a jumping castle at the Hillcrest Primary School in Devonport, Tasmania Dec 16, 2021. (AP)

Written by Yan Zhuang

Thursday was the last day of the school year for most children in the Australian island state of Tasmania. A primary school in the small city of Devonport wanted to celebrate with dancing, games and a bouncy castle on the big field behind the building.

By 10 a.m., a tragedy was unfolding because of a freak accident on the school field.

While some schoolchildren were on the inflatable bouncy castle, the police said, “a significant” gust of wind sent it, along with giant inflatable Zorb balls, flying into the air. Nine students plunged more than 30 feet to the ground.

The police confirmed the first death at midday, the second by 1.45 p.m. and the third and fourth by late afternoon. By the early evening, five students at the school, Hillcrest Primary, were dead.

Ambulances and helicopters rushed to the scene.

Tasmania’s police commissioner, Darren Hine, described the events Thursday as “one of the most serious tragedies any of us are going to experience.”

“On a day when these children were meant to be celebrating the last day of primary school,” Hine added, “instead we’re all mourning their loss.”

Three boys and two girls died, he said Friday morning. One girl was 11 and the other children were all 12. Three others were critically injured and hospitalised, while another was recovering at home, he added.

The police have not identified the victims, but one of the children who died was later named on a GoFundMe account started by her aunt to support her family. The site described her as a “sweet, kind, old soul.”

Another student was identified on a GoFundMe created by friends of his mother. It described him as “beautiful, caring, gentle.”

Hine declined to say how many children had been on the bouncy castle or if it had been secured to the ground, but said nearly 40 fifth- and sixth-graders had been participating in the celebration at the time.

Two school children have died after they fell from a bouncy castle which was lifted into air by gusts of wind in Australia’s Tasmania state (Twitter/Monte Bovill)

The police were investigating the matter with the state’s health and safety regulator and would prepare a report for the coroner, he said.

Devonport has a population of 25,000, and Hillcrest, one of its six primary schools, has about 220 students. The “big day-in” of events at the school was to run from 9.30 a.m. to 2 p.m., according to one Facebook post. Among the fun planned were arts and crafts activities, a “wet play zone” with a slippery slide, and the bouncy castle.

There have been varying accounts about the strength of the wind that caused the accident. Bob Smith, a resident who lives next to the school, told The Mercury newspaper, “There was one really strong gust of wind on what was otherwise a beautiful calm day.”

Hine said, “It’s fair to say the wind was quite strong.”

After the accident, the school said on social media that it was closing for the rest of the day. “We ask that parents come to collect their children as a matter of urgency,” it pleaded.

By Friday morning, a GoFundMe page to support the families affected had raised more than 500,000 Australian dollars ($359,000).

Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the events “shattering” and “unthinkably heartbreaking.”

It was one of the deadliest bouncy castle episodes in recent years.

In 2019, two children were killed and 20 others injured after a dust devil swept a bouncy castle high into the air in Henan province in China. One child was killed in Britain after being thrown from one in 2018. Two fairground workers were sentenced to three years in jail after they were convicted of manslaughter by gross negligence after a bouncy castle blew away in 2016, killing a 7-year-old girl in Essex, England.

In 2014, two upstate New York boys, 5 and 6, were thrown from an inflatable bounce house that went airborne, sailed about 50 feet high and dropped one child in the street and another in the parking lot of an apartment building, where he hit his head on a car.

A 10-year-old girl in the inflatable got minor injuries. But one boy suffered a serious head injury and was placed in a medically induced coma. The other was left with broken arms, a broken jaw and other injuries, local reports said.

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