Addison Stewart, a 11-year-old Australian girl, was among five children killed this week when a gust of wind lifted a bouncy castle 30 feet off the ground during a holiday festival at their elementary school, according to foreign reports.
Addison and 12-year-old Zane Mellor were identified as victims within hours of the tragedy on Thursday. By Friday, the Australian press named 12-year-olds Jye Sheehan, Jalailah Jayne-Maree Jones and Peter Dodt as additional victims. Four more children were hospitalized with injuries, the outlet reported.
Authorities in Tasmania said they are investigating the freak accident, including whether the bouncy castle was secured to the ground during operation.
Tasmania Jumping Castle Tragedy Kills 5
More than 40 fifth and sixth grade students at Hillcrest Primary School in Devonport, Tasmania left their classrooms Thursday to celebrate the coming of Christmas vacation, according to the BBC. The weather was mild, with low winds and clear skies forecasted across the island state.
But tragedy struck when a bouncy castle with at least nine students inside was lifted off the ground by a sudden gust of wind.
“We knew there was something really wrong. My wife heard a bang, ” said Bob Smith, who said he lives near the school and saw the bouncy castle “go up.”
The inflatable jumping castle had risen some 30 feet into the sky, authorities said, when the children tumbled out and fell to the ground below.
Teachers and faculty called for paramedics and rushed to render first aid while the other students were huddled away from the tragic scene. Five of the children were dead, and four more were rushed to a nearby hospital with serious injuries, according to reports.
“On a day when these children were meant to be celebrating their last day of primary school, instead we’re all mourning their loss,” said Tasmanian police commissioner Darren Hine. ““Our hearts are breaking for the families and the loves ones, school mates, teachers of these young people who were taken too soon.”
“As a parent there are no words” to describe the “terrible tragedy,” said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. “Young children on a fun day out, together with their families and it turns to such a horrific tragedy, at this time of year, it just breaks your heart,” he added.
Three of the surviving students remain hospitalized in serious condition, while a fourth has since been released.
Investigation Underway as Questions Loom
As authorities vow to investigate the tragedy, several circumstances remain unclear. Australia’s national weather service recorded wind speeds between 4 and 13 miles per hour Thursday morning — a range well within the average, according to the BBC.
“It is fair to say that the wind was quite strong,” said police commissioner Hine, adding that his department will look into Thursday’s weather conditions to determine if the tragedy was a “freak event.”
It’s also not known whether the bouncy castle was tethered or otherwise secured to the ground before it became airborne. Hine said investigators are also planning to speak with the amusement ride company who leased the castle to Hillcrest Primary.
“We all have a lot of questions,” he said.
Families of Addison Stewart, Zane Mellor Grieve
The loved ones of the five children killed in the tragedy voiced their shock and despair to reporters and online Friday.
Denitta Ryder, stepmother of victim Zane Mellor, told the Daily Mail the 12-year-old was a “gentle” boy whose brothers and sisters all “absolutely adored him.”
“To Zane’s dad Tim, his children are his whole world and he is completely lost without him,” she said. Tim posted a selfie with his late son on social media Thursday night, tragically captioned: “I’m going to miss you, mate.”
“Zane was such a beautiful, caring, gentle soul who had challenges growing up with his autism and ADHD,” wrote a loved one on a GoFundMe page. “But that never set him back. He kept achieving.”
“My niece was tragically taken in the accident at Hillcrest Primary,” wrote Meghan Aherne, an aunt of 11-year-old victim Addison Stewart. “Everyone is devastated, she was always such a sweet kind, old soul.”