SYDNEY (AFP) - Five children were killed and several more were seriously injured when a bouncy castle was blown into the air at an end-of-term party in Australia on Thursday (Dec 16), police said.
Police said the pupils at a primary school in Devonport, northern Tasmania, were celebrating the last week of class before the Christmas break when they were thrown from a height of about 10m.
"I can now sadly confirm that four children have died, four are in a critical condition and one in a serious condition," Tasmania police commissioner Darren Hine said. The authorities later revised the death tally to five.
The victims were two boys and two girls from grades five and six – typically aged about 10-12 years old.
Images from national broadcaster ABC showed blue tarps hanging from trees near a ditch where the jumping castle came to land, with emotional police officers nearby.
Meanwhile, state premier Peter Gutwein told media in Hobart: "People have been, as I understand it, seriously injured, and we currently have all of the relevant emergency services on site."
Several rescue helicopters and ambulances were sent to the scene at Hillcrest Primary School, police said.
The school was celebrating the end of term before breaking for the Christmas holidays.
A police investigation is under way. Distraught witnesses, friends, family, teachers and first responders are being offered counselling.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the incident as "shattering and heartbreaking".
"Young children on a fun day out, together with their families, and it turns to such horrific tragedy at this time of year. It just breaks your heart," Mr Morrison told reporters.
"I just want to say, to the parents and families and friends, all who were there, to the other young children there and witnessing these events, I just pray you’ll have great family around you and great friends and you can come through this horrific tragedy."
The school had invited parents to volunteer for the event, which featured a wet play zone, a slide, an arts and crafts area, zorb balls and the bouncy castle.
"The purpose for the day is to celebrate a successful year and enjoy some fun activities with classmates," the school, Hillcrest Primary, posted on its Facebook page.
That post was followed by the update: "There has been an accident on site at our school. We are closing the school for the rest of the day. We ask that parents come to collect their children as a matter of urgency."
The school has around 200 students. Local weather services had forecast “light winds” for the area, which sits on Tasmania’s rugged north coast, looking out across the frigid Bass Strait.