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United States

Australian diplomat plunges five floors to death playing ‘trust fall’ game on New York apartment terrace

Julian Simpson, a junior diplomat with the Australian Mission to the United Nations, plummeted from a seventh-floor balcony to a second-floor landing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 November, 2017, 11:32am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 November, 2017, 8:54pm

An Australian diplomat said to have angered a woman’s husband and then sought to prove himself with a high-risk game of trust on a seventh-floor terrace near the Empire State Building fell to his death, police said.

The diplomat, Julian Simpson, and other people had gone on an apartment building roof to look at the Empire State Building lights early Wednesday, police said.

The building was lit in rainbow colours in recognition of a survey that found most Australians support marriage equality and ensured that lawmakers will vote on a same-sex marriage bill this year.

“I will prove that you can trust me,” Simpson, 30, told a friend as he leaned over his Lower East Side ledge, according to police sources.

“Let’s play the trust game.”

The friend, James Waugh, told police he held out his arm to catch Simpson, but the diplomat lost his grip and toppled over the ledge about 1:35am, sources said.

Simpson landed on a second-storey landing outside the building.

He was pronounced dead on the scene in what police were treating as a tragic accident.

“It is a tragedy. Our hearts go out to his family,” Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said.

“I can’t provide any more details at this stage. It’s a shocking tragedy - a young life lost.”

The incident capped what had been a jovial evening for Simpson and his friends.

The diplomat had gone out to dinner with his wife and friends before returning to his flat for a drink.

While they drank outside, Simpson led Waugh’s wife, who is also an Australian diplomat, to a higher landing and twirled her around - apparently scaring her, sources said.

They all eventually returned to his flat where Waugh confronted Simpson and asked him to step outside, the sources said.

Out on his terrace, Simpson told Waugh that he never meant to scare the man’s wife.

To prove his word, Simpson suggested they play the trust game, leading to his fatal plunge.

A building resident said he was awakened by a loud commotion.

The man looked out his window and saw paramedics crowding around a bloody body, performing CPR.

New York Police Department spokesman Martin Brown said media reports of the trust game, where a person deliberately falls back and relies on another to catch them, have not been confirmed.

The police spokesman added that a toxicology report would determine whether Simpson was under the influence of alcohol at the time of his death.

“He’s described as somebody who liked to play games and had sat on the balcony railing and accidentally lost his balance.” Brown said.

Fellow diplomats expressed shock over Simpson’s death.

“RIP my dear friend, Julian Simpson. Shocked and saddened,” Tajikistan diplomat Jonibek Hikmatov wrote on Facebook.

“My prayers go to the Australian mission to the UN and his family.”

Sources said the Manhattan District Attorney had been looped into the investigation, but no charges were expected.

Simpson served as Australia’s second secretary to the United Nations.

In 2016, Simpson was among a group of diplomats who spoke to Australian students at the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in New York.

“We talked about working in foreign affairs and the nature of starting a career as a young diplomat,” one of the students was quoted as saying.

“Second Secretary, Julian Simpson, then told us about how he began his career in foreign affairs from a media background, as well as offering some tips and tricks of the trade.”

Associated Press, Tribune News Service, Reuters