LAST_UPDATEThu, 21 Jun 2018 10am

'Ragdolled' By Jet


A woman says she was lucky she wasn't killed after being "thrown like a ragdoll" by a plane's jet blast.

Olivia Dowling, 38, is now calling on airports to take extra precautions to stop people putting themselves in similar life-threatening situations.

In the incident, Dowling was "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."

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.

The ensuing blast from the departing jet literally blew Downing away.

A local saw the incident and took her to hospital, saving her NZ$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.

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.

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?"

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.