Saba Island: Landing on One of the World's Most Dangerous Runways by Sheri B Doyle
While I am not a big fan of flying (see my tip on overcoming your fear of flying), I do feel better flying in smaller planes. In my irrational mind I have a better chance of surviving a crash because I am closer to the ground. A few years ago, I was put to the test when flying to and from the island of Saba to go scuba diving.
As we approached Saba our eight-passenger plane seemed headed straight for the volcanic island. My heart started to race and I began looking around to see if anyone was going to join me in the panic as each rock on the mountain became visible. Quickly our pilot cut left and started to poise the plane for descent.
Feeling a second of relief I looked toward the front of the plane again only to see the 1,200-foot runaway. (Most runways are around 12,000 feet long.) If the runway ended in a field or other ground, it would not be quite as dramatic. However, this runway ends at a cliff rolling dramatically into the sea.
Tempted to beg for a parachute and take my chances I rationalized that pilots do this frequently, so it would be OK. When the plane hit the ground and the tires screeched to a halt all of us could do nothing but clap and praise the pilot who answered with a short sentence, “That was nothing. You should see it when it is cloudy.”
I immediately put out of my mind the fact that in one week I had to board a plane again and take off from this same runway.
When the morning of departure arrived, I rode a bus down the switchbacks of the volcanic island arriving at the tiny airport. The bus let us off on the runway, where our plane awaited. There was a bit of scurrying at the airport as we boarded the plane and incredibly we were delayed. Goats had made their way onto the runway prohibiting us from taking off.
While the airport staff chased them off the pilot started the engines. Soon he began to rev the engines building enough power to get us off the runaway and into the air, not the ocean. The plane was shaking, like a pot about to boil over. My heart was beating as I stared at the ocean only 1200 feet in front of us. Then the moment came and we were off. As we hit the end of the runway the plane dipped down, our stomachs all dropped as we waited for the wind to catch us, and our incline to begin.
Soon fear gave way to pride as I had survived a landing and takeoff on one of the worlds shortest runways.
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