A news in today’s TOI said 10 Indian tourists killed in in Nepal plane crash. The plane was a sight seeing plane that took the passengers to see the mighty Himalayas from the sky. The probable cause for the crash was bad weather.
This reminded me of another plane crash in Nepal that happened at Lukla airport, the starting point for the Everest Base Camp trek, a day after we landed there.
It was 7th October, 2008. We had reached Kathmandu the earlier night and were all ready to fly to Lukla, the starting point of our trek. To take the flight, we had to reach the Tribhuvan Airport. We had landed there, in the international section, but today we were to take a domestic flight. The domestic airport easily reminded us of the typical state transport bus stand. Same density of crowd, same chaos. The only difference is the variety of the passengers. They come from all over the world, most of them for trekking.
In the melee, we managed our gate passes with the help of our tour organizer and were soon on the tarmac. The airport was full of small, 18-20 passenger aircrafts. I had never travelled in such a small plane before. The plane actually had a cargo hold that could be reached by hand. . We stowed our rucksacks into the hold and got into the aircraft. It was really tiny, with just one seat on each side of the gangway. Soon we were all seated and the plane took off.
As the plane got away from Kathmandu, the sites were amazing. In about 10 minutes, we started seeing snow-capped peaks everywhere. We couldn’t decide which side to look. The whole journey was completely unforgettable. But the landing was even more memorable.
The first picture in the article shows the Lukla airstrip seen from the plane. There is really no place to build an airstrip long enough to land these planes, so the engineers came up with an ingenious idea. They built an airstrip that slopes upward. The gravity helps the planes stop is just 500 meters!
Off course, this is learnt wisdom, after we landed. I had ready about the airstrip, but I was not prepared mentally to experience it. As we were flying, I suddenly saw a huge mountain approaching us from front, and small houses and buildings suddenly closing in. Just as I was remarking to Geeta, my wife how close some of these houses were, we were landing, right in the middle of those houses.
After landing, we spent half an hour witnessing and photographing the landings. However, all our combined films and photos are nowhere near what the video below ha managed. Just watch it to experience the magic of Lukla. It is a little long, but every second is worth watching.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, an aircraft carrying 16 passengers and 3 crew members crashed at Lukla. They missed the landing strip by just a few feet, because the strip got covered in fog just before landing. Lukla airport is a tribute to the skill of the pilots who do these flights without any instruments.
God willing, I would love to visit Lukla once more.