It was indeed a DH6 Twin Otter coming in to land, the first of the two. The chaos meter in the check-in area went up past 11. An enterprising and resourceful type ran out behind the terminal building. There was the sound of breaking glass, a brief moment of silence, then he appeared through the office door clutching papers in his hands. Thirty seconds later boarding passes were being issued at break neck speed for both the flights simultaneously.
15 minutes later I was seated in the very first row in the first of the flights, despite my ticket for the second flight. From where I sat on the left hand side just outside the cockpit, I could see the two pilots twiddling knobs and making notes and chatting to each other as they went about the pre-flight checks. I could have leaned forward and tapped them on their shoulder because the cockpit had no door. Across from me was another young man, who seemed to know the two pilots.
Soon, we were off on the bouncing run over the hard-packed grassy airstrip and were climbing back up to cross the mountains and land at Kathmandu. Ten minutes later we were banking around in a slow turn left to line up with the runway. Losing height steadily, I watched the pilots steady the plane in line with the runway. All of a sudden the nose lifted and we banked sharply away to the right.
We went in a long low circle around the valley, completely circling it before lining up for final approach again. Lower we went, and lower and then the nose lifted and we were going around again. The pilots were talking animatedly between themselves and into the head sets as we came around and lined up for the third time. Surely, we’d be third time lucky?
No, we aborted the final approach and were going around again. My companion across the aisle had left his seat to talk to the pilots. Soon he was back in his seat. I turned to him to find out what was going on.
“I’m a pilot with RNAC too. It seems the Indian Airlines flight from Delhi is sitting in the middle of the runway with hydraulic failure”, he said.
“So what happens now?”, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to hear.
“Oh, we’re going to go around again while we figure out which of the two alternatives is better, safer, I meant…”, he said.
“So what are the two alternatives? No wait, I got it.”, and I had.
Option 1: land on this side of the runway and risk hitting the butt of the Indian Airlines plane and possible, fire, death and destruction of two planes.
We went around the valley 6 or 7 times as they worked it out, doing math on a notepad, talking to the ATC and aided by my friend across the aisle. Finally, I saw them put all the papers aside and we came around on a high approach. We came in over the stalled plane, landing just ahead of it’s nose and then we were braking hard as the pilots fought to keep the little Twin Otter on the runway in a straight line.
It took about five minutes for my knuckles to go from a chalky white to a more normal brownish tan. It took forever for my heartbeat and my breathing to return to normal.
I couldn’t wait to head out into the terminal and into the back of my waiting car, oh glory be!
It was around 3:30 in the afternoon as I collapsed into a wonderfully soft bed in a lovely hotel about 5 minutes from Everest Travels and right next door to the city office of S… Tobacco. Quite why I hadn’t thought of looking up the city office, will remain an unexplained mystery. It is possible that a very high degree of stress may have clouded my judgement that first day. I’m not sure that is the cause, but it is plausible.
Now I had the rest of the afternoon and evening to kill in lovely Kathmandu. I could now be a simple tourist and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of Nepal.
The mission launch had been rocky, the turnaround had been very rocky indeed, but now all that remained was re-entry. It was pointless to dwell on the fact that re-entry is one of the most difficult and dangerous parts of any mission. The intense heat generated could cause many a white knuckle moment. But first, I had to have some tea, walk around a bit, have dinner. I’d worry about re-entry tomorrow.
So I sallied forth, telling myself “today I eat roast chicken, tomorrow I better not be chicken or I’ll be roasted.”
Come back and see how everything pans out as I have tea, obtain a camera and meet a lawyer from New York, have dinner with her and then visit a casino. <relax, take a deep breath, exhale… 🙂 >
The ideal prep for the tricky final climb, no?