Just 40 minutes from Kathmandu lies the most dangerous airport on the planet.
As well as being the riskiest airport in Nepal, Lukla is also the country’s busiest airport; serving as the key port of entry and exit for climbers hoping to ascend Mt. Everest.
Flying into Nepal’s Lukla airport — the gateway to Mount Everest — demands courage and precision, thanks to its tiny, treacherous runway perched on a steep cliff.
For over half a century, pilots have needed to navigate snow-capped peaks and endure erratic weather to land on a runway just 500 metres long that has been carved into a mountain ridge and sits by a perilous three-kilometre drop.
Short runways are a danger because a pilot has limited space both to get the plane off the ground and to land it safely.
The room for error decreases immensely as the runway gets shorter and, to make matters worse, Lukla sits at 9,500 feet above sea level.
The higher the altitude, the lower the air density, meaning the planes need to land at faster speeds
Beyond the perils of the runway and elevation, Lukla airport is precarious due to the harsh landscape that surrounds it. At the landing end of the runway lies a stone wall and a steep mountain.
If the plane doesn’t stop soon enough, the terrain will stop it. As for the take-off, that side of the runway terminates at the edge of a steep cliff, so if you don’t make it into the air you’ll fall down a mountainside instead.
All this makes aborting a take-off or landing basically impossible, leaving pilots a very minimal margin for error.
A litany of deadly crashes, including one in October 2008 that killed all 18 on board except the pilot, has earned Lukla the nickname of the “world’s most dangerous airport”.
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