Sunday, January 20, 2013

Lukla Airport, Nepal. Scariest airport of the world

Lukla Airport (Tenzing-Hillary Airport), is a small airport in the town of Lukla, in Khumbu, Solukhumbu district, Sagarmatha (Mount Everest is called Sagarmatha in Nepali) zone, Nepal.
A program titled Most Extreme Airports broadcast on The History Channel, rated the airport as the most dangerous airport in the world. The single runway is 460 meters by 20 meters with a 12% gradient. It is at the height of 2,800 m (9,200 ft).

Lukla airport from cockpit

Lukla is where most people start the climb to Mount Everest Base Camp so this airport. Usually there are daily flights between Lukla and Kathmandu during daylight hours in good weather. Although the flying distance is short, rain, storm or bad weather commonly occurs in Lukla while the sun is shining brightly in Kathmandu. It is very often that flights are delayed or totally canceled due to high winds, cloud cover and changing visibility. I myself got stranded at Lukla airport two times.
At Kathmandu, we are weighted and our all belongings are weighted that includes our jackets, books and all before boarding to 17 seater twin otter aircraft. It turns out that the gross weight that airplane is going to carry is a bit more so there is a discussion among the staffers about what to remove.
They ask a couple of passengers who are taking some serious load for their Mount Everest expedition to take off some of their belongings but nobody agrees. Everybody is looking at a fat man, if he is removed then all problems solve. Finally they promise some local Lukla passengers that their luggage will be delivered to them on the next flight and we are now ready to board.

Plane ready to takeoff at Lukla airport
When we arrived in Lukla from Kathmandu, we saw a shaved segment on the mountain slope and it appeared that airplane was going to slam in the mountain. Mountain was closing up very fast and then all you could see the wall of mountain. Buddhist monks sitting in the airplane begun chanting prayers and everybody’s breathing stopped.

Lukla airport from aircraft
Then airplane touched the steep slope and its speed broke up due to the steep climb it faced and then in a moment appeared the small flat area and airplane stopped.
Take offs are even more dramatic. Airplane picks up the speed and then just leaves the runway and starts its free fall in the narrow valley and during the fall it picks up the speed till it is not falling anymore but gaining altitude.

Lukla airport runway is just about 400 meters
Because of the landscape, there is no second chance for a touchdown and then takeoff etc. There is high mountain wall immediately after the northern end of the runway and a steeply angled drop of about 2,000 m (6,600 ft) at the southern end of the runway into the valley below. So each airplane first dives in the space and then picks up the speed.

Yak coming out from a hotel
The 35-minute scenic flight winds up out of Kathmandu alongside the Everest and other mountains, through valleys and below ridge lines until finally, the Lukla airport’s small patch of strip appears on a steep slope in a wall of granite. Behind me, chaos is reigning as fellow passengers push around to record video and take photos of the landing. One guy almost falls into the cockpit itself in the inclined airplane and gives the whole airplane a dangerous jolt.

Near Lukla
Lucky for we all passengers that his fall is stopped by the door. Upon landing his is given a lecture about not wearing his seat belt properly.
As an over-eager German tourist attempts to launch himself over my shoulder towards the windscreen, its clear this has to be the most eventful, unusual airplane ride in the world.

Lukla village
Our very skilled pilot throws the propellers into hard reverse and we land without incident, apart from having witnessed a heroic accomplishment of aviation.
At Lukla, the planes arrive like trains, unloading and reloading trekkers in less than 10 minutes. Many planes are chartered. This is also a very busy heliport. Once I arrive on this airport by a chartered Helicopter, I got a ride on a charter Helicopter from this airport, returning expedition party was taking passengers to subset the charter costs.
So impressive and fearful are the takeoffs and landings that, like a true aviation geek, we delay beginning of our trek to Namche Bazaar for two hours.
Everest must wait, while three happy hours are passed sitting at the end of the runway, airplanes dropping from the runway down the 2000-foot cliff only to reappear soaring towards the mountain tops beyond. Everybody applauses after witnessing each successful departure and arrival.

Mules in Lukla bazaar
Flights start at about $110 one way.
In trekking season, flights can be booked hard. Try for the earliest 6am flights to avoid weather deterioration mid-morning (and cancelled flights).

Outside of Lukla village
Beware Lukla can close for days, but if pilots call it unsafe to fly, it’s best to go with the flow. You may be stranded there. It is 6 days walk to the nearest road.

Airport entrance
Tara Air and Yeti Air offer flight to Lukla.
One excellent video about this flight is:

3 comments:

  1. एक दिन आयेगा, जब हमारा बाइकर समूह भी वहाँ तक जायेगा जहाँ तक सम्भव हो सकेगा, जरुर जायेगा,

    ReplyDelete
  2. one request, please remove word verification, you can use moderation.

    इससे कमेन्ट करने वाले के लिये आसानी रहती है।

    ReplyDelete
  3. You were allowed into the cockpit to take photographs?

    Lovely pictures all!

    ReplyDelete

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