The small, mountain airport at Lukla in the Khumbu region of Nepal is often described as the most dangerous airstrip in the world. Jutting out on a small ridge into the deep valley of the Dudh Kosi River, it slopes at an angle of 10%. The daily flight from Kathmandu are often cancelled due to adverse weather – low cloud makes the approach of skimming the far valley wall before descending steeply to the strip all but impossible.
Add to this the fact that it was not tarmacked, but had a dirt surface and planes often skidded if they got the landing wrong. Several boken fusilages lying to the sides were testament to how bumpy it could be, sometimes the wingtips seeming centimetres from the ground.
It was take off that made the strip so famous in the past – a manoeuvre that was known as the “Ski jump.” The planes – twin otter turbo props with their engines revved to max- would race down the slope before falling off the end into the valley – it was perhaps the only airport in the world where you actually lost altitude as you took off!
It is a popular route however as it is the nearest airport to Mt. Everest, the destination of choice for both mountaineers attempting its summit, and thousands of trekkers who visit its Base Camp every year. 10 years ago it was tarmacked, making it safer, but the approach is still the same and it is still prone to cancellations – nobody can control the weather of the Himalayas and you don’t want to be flying blind.