Worksafe Tasmania officers inspect a bouncy castle at Hillcrest Primary School in Devonport, Tasmania, on Thursday. A strong gust of wind lifted the castle some 30 feet into the air at an event celebrating the end of the school year.

Worksafe Tasmania officers inspect a bouncy castle at Hillcrest Primary School in Devonport, Tasmania, on Thursday. A strong gust of wind lifted the castle some 30 feet into the air at an event celebrating the end of the school year. / Grant Wells/Reuters

Five children were killed and several others injured at a school celebration in the Australian state of Tasmania when a strong gust of wind lifted a bouncy castle more than 30 feet into the air.

Nine students at Hillcrest Primary School in Devonport fell from around 10 meters — or 32 feet — after a "significant local wind event caused a jumping castle and several inflatable 'zorb' balls to lift into the air," Tasmania Police said in a statement on Thursday.

They initially said four children were killed in the incident, but confirmed to NPR that a fifth later died in the hospital.

Four children remain hospitalized, with three in critical condition and one in serious condition, according to Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein.

Commissioner Darren Hine told reporters that the victims include two boys and two girls in Year 6, which would suggest they were 11 or 12 years old.

"On a day where these children were meant to be celebrating their last day at primary school, instead we are all mourning their loss," he said.

A celebration turned tragic

Hillcrest Primary School had been celebrating the end of the school year with a "Big Day In," according to a post on its Facebook page. The event included water activities like a slip 'n slide and sprinklers as well as games, dancing, arts and crafts, a bouncy castle and zorb balls (inflatable, transparent orbs also known as "human hamster balls").

The school later posted on Facebook that there had been an accident and asked parents to pick up their children.

Police said that the incident happened around 10 a.m. local time and that officers and emergency responders arrived on the scene within minutes to begin administering first aid.

Law enforcement and Tasmanian officials are offering their thoughts and sympathies to the loved ones, community members and first responders impacted by the tragedy.

"On a day when schoolchildren are celebrating the end of term, so close to Christmas, it is simply inconceivable that this shocking tragedy has occurred," Gutwein said in a statement. "We stand ready to provide whatever support we can to the families directly impacted, the students, staff, the broader community, and emergency services and our first responders who I know have also been deeply impacted."

He added that the incident will be "fully and thoroughly investigated" by police and Worksafe Tasmania, the state's workplace safety regulator.

Hine said investigations are already underway, with witnesses to be interviewed and a report to be prepared for the coroner. Because of that, he could not go into detail about questions like how many kids were on the bouncy castle or what was used to anchor it to the ground.

Counseling is available to anyone affected

In the meantime, officials said support and counseling are being made available to all of those involved.

Tim Bullard, secretary of the Tasmanian Education Department, said at a briefing that his "immediate priority" is to support children, families and staff who were affected.

"We're coordinating a range of services as a critical response to support students, families and staff, and our approach is being guided by our senior psychologists, who are trained in trauma-informed practice," he said. "We have a team of professional support staff on-site to provide immediate support to students and staff, and this includes our psychologists, social workers and chaplains."

The staff will also be on-site on Friday, he said, with ongoing support to be provided through the weekend and into the holidays.

Other resources mentioned by the police include 24-hour mental health services hotlines, including one specifically for kids.

Similar tragedies have happened over the years

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the events of the day "unthinkably heartbreaking."

"Young children on a fun day out together with their families, and it turns to such horrific tragedy," he told reporters. "At this time of year, it just breaks your heart."

Fatal incidents involving bouncy castles are not unheard of.

Two children died and 20 were injured when wind sent a bouncy castle airborne in central China in 2019, and two fairground workers were convicted of manslaughter by gross negligence after a 2016 accident in which a bouncy castle was swept nearly 1,000 feet across a park while a 7-year-old was still inside. And in 2014, two kindergartners in upstate New York were injured when the bounce house they were playing in was lifted into the air by a strong gust of wind.

This story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

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