How did this happen? Everything we know about the jumping castle tragedy

Five primary school children have died in a jumping castle incident after wind picked up the inflatable on the final day of school in Tasmania’s north-west.

A lot is still unknown about the “distressing” and “unthinkably heartbreaking” incident but there are some things we do know.

Police cars outside a primary school

A gust of wind picked up a jumping castle at Hillcrest Primary School.(ABC News)

WARNING: This story contains details of the incident and photographs that some readers may find distressing.

What happened?

Blue plastic hangs from a tree with debris scattered below it.
Debris was left in a tree and scattered below it after the deadly accident.(ABC News: Monte Bovill)

About 10am at the sports oval at Hillcrest Primary School in Devonport, a gust of wind picked up a jumping castle as well as several zorb balls (inflatable balls that people stand inside) and hurled them into the air.

The jumping castle rose about 10 metres and pulled kids with it, according to eyewitness reports to police.

Children fell from the jumping castle, with some people landing on the oval and others off the hilly slope at the edge of the oval.

Two police officers sitting on the ground lean on each other.
Police and paramedics responded to the distressing event at the school.(ABC News)

How many children were hurt?

Five children have died all in grade 5 and 6, on their final school day of the year.

Four other children are in hospital.

A helicopter takes flight from a field in Devonport.
Children were airlifted to hospital after the incident.(ABC News: Monte Bovill)

We don’t know how many children in total were on the jumping castle or using the zorb balls.

Several helicopters came to the scene to ferry victims to hospitals.

How did the jumping castle lift off?

We don’t know yet.

Police called it a “wind event” and a “gust” but the nearest weather bureau monitoring site, about 10 kilometres away at Devonport Airport, did not record anything out of the ordinary.

Police have also not confirmed what was used to anchor down the jumping castle.

A deflated blue jumping castle hands in a tree
It is not known how the jumping castle was anchored to the ground.(ABC News: Monte Bovill)

Bureau of Meteorology duty forecaster Anna Forrest said the strongest gust recorded at the airport around the time of the incident was only 22 kilometres per hour, “which is not atypical for the area and wouldn’t be considered extremely strong”.

“It’s a fairly light wind,” she said.

“The last front that had gone through was yesterday afternoon. The winds were in the process of going from a southerly to a north-easterly.

“They were all around the 20 kilometre an hour mark, so nothing horrible was reported at the airport, but obviously had horrible consequences for the site.”

Ms Forrest said the wind would have felt like getting in your car, driving 22kph and putting your hand out the window.

“It’s quite mild. Before anyone in the bureau would call it strong [wind], it has to get to 46 kilometres an hour,” she said.

Why was there a jumping castle at the school?

The school was holding a “Big Day In” event for the end of the school year. It usually holds a school picnic but switched to a different event last year due to COVID.

“The ‘Big Day In’ will start at 9:30am where students will have the opportunity to rotate through a range of activities with their cohort,” a post on the school’s community page said.

An aerial map of a school.
The incident happened at the oval at Hillcrest Primary School.(Supplied: Google Maps)

Activities on the oval included: “jumping castle, zorb balls, tabloid activities.”

There was also a wet-play zone with slides and sprinklers and an arts and craft area.

“The purpose of the day is to celebrate a successful year and enjoy some fun activities with classmates,” the post said.

One parent said the school-based event was so successful last year that they decided to hold it again, rather than the annual picnic, which was off school grounds.

Has this ever happened before?

It’s not common but fatal incidents involving jumping castles have happened overseas.

Two children were killed and 20 other people injured in central China in 2019 when a jumping castle was blown into the sky by a dust devil.

In the UK in 2018, a jumping castle reportedly exploded at a beach, killing a child.

Also in the UK, a jumping castle blew away at a fairground and killed a seven-year-old child. Two workers were convicted of manslaughter by gross negligence over the death.

What will happen now?

Police and other officials walk near a tree.
Police will gather evidence and the coroner will eventually hold an inquest.(ABC News)

The coroner has already visited the scene and police are investigating and gathering evidence.

Tasmania Police Commissioner Darren Hine said the investigation would take “quite some time”.

He said all evidence gathered would form the basis of a future inquest into the deaths.

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