Tasmania jumping castle tragedy ‘simply incomprehensible’ as tributes flow for five children killed

Tasmanian Premier, Peter Gutwein, says the Devonport tragedy “is beyond comprehension” as police begin piecing together the cause of Thursday’s tragic jumping castle accident that killed five children.

Speaking to reporters in Devonport on Friday, he said there had been a huge outpouring of grief and support in the small coastal city on Thursday night.

“The tragedy which occurred yesterday is beyond comprehension,” Gutwein said. “It is devastating, heartbreaking. It’s just simply incomprehensible.”

Five children – three boys and two girls – died from injuries sustained when the bouncy castle was lifted into the air by a sudden wind gust. Several zorb balls, with children inside, also flew into the air. They were 11 and 12 years old.

Three children remain in critical condition, but police said one had now been released and was recovering at home.

Witnesses told police that the children were lifted about 10 metres before falling to the ground.

Gutwein said he had been speaking to community members and offered his support to the family. “As a parent, I cannot understand how the parents of those who have lost children must be feeling,” he said.

“But as a parent, I hope that they can understand that we are all feeling for you as well. As the commissioner said yesterday, a full investigation is under way and the coroner has visited the scene. I make a commitment to all of the families affected by this tragedy that we will stand with you and we will support you.”

Hillcrest primary school was holding a “Big Day In” celebration to mark the end of the school year, with the jumping castle and a number of inflatable zorb balls.

There were close to 40 year 5 and 6 students taking part in the end-of-term activities when this incident occurred.

Several adults were also there when the inflatable equipment lifted into the air and they gave the children first aid until emergency services arrived.

“Nine children were seriously injured. Tragically five of those children have died, three boys and two girls,” police commissioner Tasmania Darren Hine said. “One was 11 years old, four were 12 years old. Three remain in a critical condition at the Royal Hobart hospital. One is now recovering from home.”

Asked if it was tethered to the ground, Hine would only say that it would form part of the investigation.

They will also be investigating how high it flew, whether all the children injured were inside the jumping castle, and where the strong wind came from.

The education department secretary, Tim Bullard, said they were supporting people on the ground.

“At Hillcrest school today, we have a team of our own professional support staff, including school psychologists, social workers and chaplains, supporting children and their familes, and the Department of Health is also assisting with access to child and adolescent mental health services,” he said.

“Together we are working together to ensure that those affected are receiving the care and assistance that they need at this time.”

The mayor of Devonport, Annette Rockliff, said the community was “in shock”.

“Certainly we are still trying to get our heads around how we could possibly be losing these children, and, as has been mentioned, we are a very connected community.

“Everybody knows somebody, and we are already seeing people wrapping their arms around each other and supporting each other and I know that that will continue, but we as council will certainly be working with counselling services and social responders.”

ABC reporter Monte Bovill, who arrived at the school just after the tragedy occurred on Thursday, said over Twitter it “was hard to put into words”.

“At the height of awfulness when I arrived, I put down my camera. A parent came up to me and hugged me. She sat with me and said ‘we’re human’,” he tweeted.

He said parents were running to the school to collect their children.

Two female police officers had been some of the first at the scene. In the afternoon Bovill photographed the pair collapsed on the ground, holding each other.

Neighbour Bob Smith’s veranda overlooks the primary school, he said he came out as the castle flew into the air. “Then I saw kids on the ground,” he told the Mercury. “There was one really strong gust of wind on what is a beautiful calm day.

“At first we thought it might have been an emergency services training exercise then the reality of what was happening kicked in.”

People gathered outside a primary school in Devonport on Thursday night for a candlelight vigil and flowers and messages of sympathy have been left near the gates.

Some residents turned off their Christmas lights as a mark of respect and businesses closed early.

“People who just have no connection to the school or any of the families have just come in crying and grieving over the loss of the children in something that was supposed to be a celebration,” Fiona Morrison, a member of the local Uniting Church, told Nine Network on Friday. “They just can’t believe what has happened.

“Last night, people turned off their Christmas lights in respect, or turned on their Christmas lights to offer the other children some hope, some light, at this time when they are grieving.”

Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie, who went to school in Devonport, broke down on channel Nine talking about the tragedy. Lambie said the accident was “unthinkable” and “beyond imaginable”.

“It is just … just horrific, you know. A week before Christmastime,” she told Today.

“Imagine those kids having those Christmas presents under the tree … it is just bloody awful.”

Tasmania’s governor Barbara Baker released a statement on Friday morning saying she stood with the Devonport community and would provide whatever comfort she could.

“Our thoughts are with those affected; immediate families, classmates and their parents, the school staff, first responders and the entire Devonport community,” she said.

The coroner visited the scene on Thursday and police are investigating and gathering evidence, but Tasmania police commissioner Darren Hine said the investigation would take “quite some time”.

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