If you are time-strapped or looking for the fastest way to the Everest Region in Eastern Nepal, Agni and Yeti airlines fly between Kathmandu and Lukla, the gateway to the home of the loftiest peak. This less than an hour’s flight is however quite risky or “adventurous.” Accidents happen. Adventure seekers still take the risk because this journey by road requires six days involving one day’s bus travel and five days’ arduous trek.
Before you board the flight, know the risks involved and be mentally prepared.
- The airport at Lukla, Tenzing-Hillary Airport at an altitude of approximately 2,843 meters or 9, 325 feet, features a short and narrow airstrip on the mountain slope.
- The airstrip, one of the most dangerous airstrips in the world, has about 12 degree slope. The one-way runway is shorter than half a kilometer and just twenty-meter wide.
- During bad weather conditions, accidents happen if precautions are not taken. For instance, flying during thick fog and cloud cover caused plane crashes in the past.
- Since the plane can only take off towards and land from the northeast and the southwest respectively, unfavorable wind direction brings the flights to a halt.
- During popular trekking season, October, thick fog sheets interrupt the flights for long periods. The passengers have to await fog to clear. During the waiting period, food and accommodation shortage is a norm.
- Taking off from and landing at the airport require precise calculations because (1) the airport is hemmed with mountains and deep valleys and (2) the airport does not feature navigation devices, radar or control tower. The slightest miscalculation while landing or taking off will cause a plane to crash into the surrounding mountain or fall in more than 9,000 feet deep valley.
Despite the risks, the airport, built in 1965, is the busiest airport in the country. Sir Edmund Hillary built the airport to improve living conditions of the local Sherpas. The airport features parking space just for four specially designed short take-off and landing (STOL) aircraft. The airport not only serves mountaineers and trekkers but also is used to transport supplies, construction materials and food required for the local community.