MELBOURNE, Australia — Thursday was the last day of the school year for most children in the Australian island state of Tasmania. A primary school in the city of Devonport wanted to celebrate with dancing, games and, out on the big field behind the building, a bouncy castle and giant inflatable Zorb balls.

By 10 a.m., a tragedy was unfolding because of a freak accident on the school field.

While some schoolchildren were on the inflatable bouncy castle, police said, “a significant” gust of wind sent it and the Zorb balls flying into the air. Nine students plunged more than 30 feet to the ground.

The police confirmed the first death at midday, the second by 1:45 p.m. and the third and fourth by late afternoon. By the early evening, five sixth-graders at the school, Hillcrest Primary, were dead.

Ambulances and helicopters rushed to the scene. Some children were treated there, while others were taken to a hospital.

Tasmania’s police commissioner, Darren Hine, described the events Thursday as “one of the most serious tragedies any of us are going to experience.”


“On a day when these children were meant to be celebrating the last day of primary school,” Hine added, “instead we’re all mourning their loss.”

He said other children had been critically injured and another was in serious condition. None of the students were immediately identified.

Hine declined to say how many children had been on the bouncy castle or if it had been secured to the ground. Police were investigating the matter with the state’s health and safety regulator and would prepare a report for the coroner, he said.

Devonport has a population of 25,000, and Hillcrest is one of its six primary schools. The “big day-in” of events at Hillcrest was to run from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., according to one Facebook post. Among the fun planned were arts and crafts activities, a “wet play zone” with a slippery slide and the bouncy castle.

After the accident, the school said on social media about 11 a.m. that it was closing for the rest of the day.

“We ask that parents come to collect their children as a matter of urgency,” it pleaded.


By Thursday afternoon, a GoFundMe page to support the families affected had raised more than 30,000 Australian dollars ($21,000) in three hours.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the events “shattering” and “unthinkably heartbreaking.”

It was one of the deadliest bouncy castle episodes in recent years.

In 2019, two children were killed and 20 others injured after a dust devil swept a bouncy castle high into the air in Henan province in China. One child was killed in Britain after being thrown from one in 2018. Two fairground workers were sentenced to three years in jail after they were convicted of manslaughter by gross negligence after a bouncy castle blew away in 2016, killing a 7-year-old girl in Essex, England.