Situated on the charming Dutch Caribbean island of St. Maarten, Princess Juliana International Airport offers tourists and aviation enthusiasts an exciting chance to watch planes flying low overhead. The airport’s setting has made it a popular tourist hotspot but this doesn’t come without its risks, as there are several factors which make Princess Juliana Airport a pretty dangerous place to visit.
But just what is it that makes this unique airport so risky exactly?
Firstly, the airport’s runway is located extremely close to nearby Maho Beach, bringing in tourists looking to soak up beach life, while watching planes take off and land at very low altitudes. Although the beach gives visitors a one-off chance to spot planes while enjoying the ocean, the proximity of the runway also poses a danger, placing them perilously close to the powerful jet blasts from departing planes.
These blasts are so forceful they can easily knock you completely off your feet and can even propel people into nearby buildings or even the water! One woman was blown into a curb by a jet blast at Princess Juliana, so if you’re planning to visit Maho Beach to watch the nearby planes take off, be careful, as standing too close during takeoff could put you in danger.
Noise and flying debris is also a problem at the airport, as the loud roar jet engines make at a close distance can easily damage hearing. On top of that, the plane’s jet blast can cause lots of debris to be propelled into the air, from loose stones, to sand and other objects – and if you get hit by this, you could be seriously injured. Taking protective measures like ear protection and a visor and not standing too close is recommended – but even if you do this, you should still make sure you watch out for any flying objects!
Some spectators have been known to hold on to the airport fence during takeoff – and while this might up the thrill, it’s totally unsafe – with one tourist getting fatally injured doing just that. Not only does this put you directly in the path of the jet blast, but if you do it, you could get hit by flying aircraft components or landing gear too.
The layout of Princess Juliana Airport also poses a unique challenge for pilots, as the runway itself is quite short. Pilots need pinpoint accuracy and tons of experience to navigate landing and takeoff, without experiencing hazards – and the hilly terrain surrounding the airport only makes the landscape even trickier to get around. One Boeing 737 had an extremely close call, almost crashing into the water on landing and though they are still fairly rare, there have been other near-fatal incidents that have occurred in this perilous place.
You might think the dangers of Princess Juliana Airport stop with the airport but you’d be wrong, as the sea brings its own dangers. Strong jet blasts from plane engines as they depart can cause powerful waves, putting swimmers at risk of drowning. The turbulence created by the planes can also create undertows, which creates further dangers, as they can quickly drag you under.
Though Princess Juliana Airport is uniquely situated and offers plane spotters and visitors the chance to experience planes departing and landing up close, it’s crucial to be aware of this hotspot’s dangers. If you’re going to be visiting the airport, or nearby Maho Beach, exercise caution, keep a safe distance from aircraft and don’t do anything that could put you at any extra risk.