Chopper Out Of Lukla

Lukla is known as the most dangerous airport in the world. When planes are permitted to fly in from Kathmandu, pilots have to negotiate mountain peaks, storm clouds, and strong wind gusts, before landing on a short strip with a steep incline. There is a vertical cliff below the approach and a mountain wall on the other end of the short runway. The planes are small and old, without any radar. The airport and planes have even been blacklisted by many Europeans, from what I hear is at the request of their governments.

On our way back from base camp, a storm rolled in. By the time we made it to Lukla for our scheduled flight, the airport had been closed for seven straight days. After waiting in the airport all day to see if our flight would go, we were denied. That put us at the back of the queue, behind seven days of other passengers waiting to depart. If we took the chance and hung out in Lukla waiting for our next flight in seven days, there would have been a good chance of missing the flight again, and having to wait and additional seven or so days before the next opportunity of flying out.

(Video footage of a plane crashing into the vertical cliff at the foot of the runway, killing everyone aboard, while trying to land).

The only other way to get out of Lukla is to walk three days down the mountain for ten hours a day, before driving a jeep for 17 hours on a twisted road to Kathmandu. Luckily, Lhakpa Sherpa, our family friend, has a cousin who files helicopters for a living. We were able to work a good deal out with him, and we were picked up the following day. When the chopper arrived, we were able to give Lhakpa and his wife a ride with us to Kathmandu, so they were able to make a family wedding and take care of some other business in town. The chopper ride was exciting, flying over deep valleys and nearly clipping gusty mountain peaks during our hour-long ride. Stoked we were able to finish our trek helping our friends in an action packed ride to Kathmandu. We even made our international flight the following day.

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