Death :Big changes are on the horizon for tourists and the businesses that rely on them, following the death of a tourist at St. Maarten’s famed Maho Beach last week.
On Wednesday, Christophe Emmanuel, a minister in the St. Maarten government suggested closing the road at the end of Runway 23 over which airplanes fly at low altitude thrilling tourists by the thousands.
Emmanuel told reporters in St. Maarten the plan would involve re-routing traffic to the residential community that uses the road and relocating businesses.
This came as a big shock to the manager of Sunset Bar, where plane-spotters sit for hours eating and drinking and posing for selfies as planes roar by. These visitors are a major part of Sunset Bar’s business, but Melissa, who did not want to give her last name, was unaware of the government’s announcement. She said the restaurant was not asked to contribute to the planned changes.
“It’s impossible” to close the road, she said. “It’s the only road that leads to a neighborhood.”
Phone calls to government offices went unanswered and an email seeking comment was not returned.
Gayleen McEwan, a 57-year old New Zealander was doing what dozens of thrill seekers have been doing every day for years. Disregarding warning signs in English and French, she grabbed hold of the fence separating the airport runway from the road at Maho Beach and waited for the rush of air as the engines of a departing Caribbean Airlines Boeing 737 spooled up for takeoff.
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Unlike the others, McEwan was not able to hold on. The jet blast propelled her into a concrete Jersey barrier with a force sufficient to kill her.
Government officials have been concerned that beach goers ignore the signs to stay away from the fence. When I wrote my story for Air & Space magazine in 2016, Marla Chemont of the tourism bureau told me she prayed no one would get hurt.