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This Plane Went Around At The Most Dangerous Airport In The World And Survived

A pilot's view of the approach to Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Nepal. (Credit: WikiMedia).


Climbers planning to scale Mt. Everest first have to get past landing at the world’s most dangerous airport.

Two months ago we published a week-long series on some of the world’s most dangerous landing strips (the links to those posts can be found in this roundup.)

So what is considered the world’s scariest/dangerous airport? The strip of asphalt in Lukla, Nepal – which also happens to be the gateway to Mt. Everest, one of the world’s most challenging mountain climbs.

This “airport” is at an elevation of 9,100 feet. The tarmac is 65 feet wide by 1,500 feet long. At the southern end, there’s a 2,000-foot drop into a valley. At the opposite end, the runway ends in a stone wall and a hairpin turn. Pilots have to hit their mark when landing.

The runway has a gradient of 12 percent, sloping down toward the valley. That upward slope helps slow planes on landing to the north but creates even more excitement on takeoffs as planes are angling down – toward the valley – when they’re supposed to be heading up.

The video below of this Twin Otter of Tara Air shows a rare “go-around.”  On final approach an aircraft has to be stable.  That means that they are lined up with the centerline, at the correct airspeed and have a descent rate that is within tolerances.  In any approach, a go-around is a challenging maneuver.  At Lukla, a late go around could easily result in CFIT or Controlled Flight Into Terrain.   In this video of an aborted landing at Lukla, the pilot chose to bank left.  He veered off into the valley, below the horizon.  He dropped off-camera (which led to a heart-in-the-throat feeling for viewers like us) until the plane reappears for a (successful) landing.

Trivia note: The official name of this landing strip is Tenzing-Hillary. In 2008, the airport was renamed for Sir Edmund Hillary, not the two time presidential candidate.In January 2008 the airport was renamed in honor of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary, the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1953. Their climbing adventure/accomplishment didn’t include landing at the airport, which had yet to be built.


Written by Wendell Barnhouse

Wendell Barnhouse is a veteran journalist with over 40 years of experience as a writer and an editor. For the last 30 years, he wrote about college sports but he has had an interest and curiosity about aviation since he was in grade school.

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