Flying into the Most Dangerous Airport in the World

My stomach is tense, and I can’t stop tapping my foot on the floor. A nervous tick. We’re already running an hour late as we pull up to the airport because someone in our group had ATM trouble in the morning. As we exit the van, I can see Lalit (our guide) sprinting across the parking lot. Before I know it, we’re all running frantically behind him praying we haven’t missed our flight. Our group of ten rushes into the entrance and blasts through what is considered security. After pushing our way to the front of the check-in counter, we’re told that our flight left without us. The weather in Lukla was clear.

There’s a joke that if you don’t like the weather in the Himalayas, just wait five minutes. All flight departures to Lukla are pending the extremely erratic and temperamental weather. Missing a perfectly good flight means we may be stuck here for hours, possibly days. We all grab a seat and get ready for the long haul while every bad possibility runs through my mind. The flight I was terrified to board now seems like a dream. If we can’t fly on a plane, we’ll need to charter a helicopter for a whopping $500 each! If that plan fails, we lose four days of our trek and take a jeep, guaranteeing that we won’t see Gokyo Lakes. Something I paid an extra $400 for, and no, there’s no refund.

What it's like flying into the most dangerous airport in the world - Lukla, Nepal

After an hour of watching other groups come and go, Lalit appears and waves at us to follow him as fast as we can. We each do a short sprint to the check in counter where we all throw our bags on the scale as quickly as possible. Once they’ve all been weighed, we sprint yet again to another room. This one is slightly closer to the runway. I take that as a good sign. After 45 minutes of hoping the weather doesn’t turn bad, we are rushed to a bus and driven toward the tarmac.

The bus pulls up, and sitting in front of us is a toy. There’s no way it’s a real plane. It’s so tiny that I can’t even imagine it airborne. As the thought crosses my mind I see one taking off behind us. Everyone on the tarmac is waving at us to get onboard as quickly as possible. My brain barely has time to process what’s going on. We all jump in and take our seats, which look like they’ve been bolted to the floor as an afterthought. I look out my window and see a giant propeller 2 feet from my face. If we crash, I won’t survive.

What it's like flying into the most dangerous airport in the world - Lukla, Nepal

A stewardess hands each of the 14 passengers cotton balls for our ears and hard candies. A snack for the 30-minute journey ahead. The cockpit is so close I could reach out and touch it, and there’s no door shielding us from seeing the crew of two men. Within seconds of boarding, the doors are closed, and we pull out onto the runway. A few more seconds later and, we are in the air. The whole boarding process lasting less than 2 minutes.

I’d read that the views on the left side of the plane are incredible, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Out my tiny window, past the propeller, were mountains so high that they seemed surreal. My fear of flying quickly disappeared. That is, until we hit a few clouds. Suddenly, I was reminded of the tiny aircraft’s size as it bounced through the sky. One moment it would drop, then teeter back and forth, and finally balance back out. After a few long moments, the turbulence was left in our wake. The smile on my face was absurdly large as I continued to stare out the window and see how beautiful the world really is. I couldn’t even imagine spending the next 17 days on the ground looking up at these magnificent giants.

Just as I started to settle in and get comfortable, I looked out the cockpit window. In front of us was by far the largest mountain I’d ever seen, and we were flying straight towards it. The engine slowed and the plane began to feel as though it were moving in slow motion. There was no way we could stay airborne like this. To my horror, I saw a strip of grey in front of us. That teeny tiny strip was the runway. It stretched from one cliff straight into the mountain, and it looks about 5 feet long.

What it's like flying into the most dangerous airport in the world - Lukla, Nepal

I looked back at my group, and we were all forming an unconfident yet adrenaline packed smile. The plane started to plummet, and we hit the tarmac hard with a thump. We were moving so fast that there was no way we’d ever stop in time. The wall in front of us growing closer and closer. Moments before hitting it, we swerved to the right and miraculously came to a complete stop. The plane filled with applause. We’d made it. I picked up my phone and sent a message that read, “I’m Alive!” Welcome to Lukla.

What it's like flying into the most dangerous airport in the world - Lukla, Nepal

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