Landing at Lukla Airport, Nepal
Day 3: Tuesday 3rd January 2006.
Landing at Lukla
The approach to Lukla airport is exciting and somewhat unnerving. The approach is down a steep sided valley for about ten minutes. The final approach technique is to do a sharp left hand turn and DIVE at a steep angle straight at a cliff, or so it seems at first. The screaming engines roar their protest, a sound reminiscent of diving planes in all those old WW2 movies. The plane levels out, touches down and suddenly comes to a halt. One has landed; spontaneous applause from all on board.
The Lukla airstrip is amazing. It was built in the 1960s under instructions from Sir Edmund Hillary. When landing or taking off there is no room for error. It is 351 metres long (1150 feet) and rises over 100 feet (30 metres) from the bottom to the top, giving it an angle of about 10 degrees. (Compare this with the road above the Heysen Tunnels in the Adelaide Hills at 7 degrees.)
The airstrip was built by hand by several hundred Sherpas, the final preparation for the first flight was done by them all linking arms and dancing on the surface for several days in order to pound down the bare earth. It worked, but today it is an asphalt strip. The sudden stop is very necessary; there is a sheer rock face reaching several hundred metres upwards at the end! The plane taxis to a stop and turns on to a 50m x 50m tarmac. Taking off is just as hazardous; it is then a downhill slope. The planes become airborne only metres from the end, with a 600 metre drop to the valley below. Exhilarating stuff!
Sherpas Move the Immovable
When I returned home I did some extra research on the topic of the airport. Some of that information is included in the above paragraph. I discovered one interesting fact about its construction. Edmund Hillary was not happy with the compactness of the earth, so he gathered all the Sherpas used in the construction and asked them to do a celebration dance â€“ for 2 days! The constant pounding of their feet did the trick, but they were tired of dancing by the end of the second day. They also had a number of immoveable boulders in the way. The solution was easy; they just dug large holes under the boulders, pushed them into the holes and covered them with earth.