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The Most Dangerous Airport in the World

Lukla Airport
The airport in Lukla, Nepal

There are a lot of sketchy airports acround the world, but according to the History Channel, none as dangerous as the Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla. But if you’ve already climbed to Everest Base Camp or trekked anywhere in the surrounding Himalayas, you probably already know this. Nestled deep in the mountains, perched on the edge of a cliff with a tiny little uphill runway, you’re crashing into a steep hill if the pilot can’t stop the plane fast enough upon landing. That is of course assuming that the clouds aren’t too thick and he gets the unassisted landing right so you don’t crash into the mountain.

Inside the Plane from Kathmandu to Lukla
Waiting inside the plane to take off from Kathmandu on our way to Lukla

We knew the flight was going to be a scary one, the Himalayas are not really your ideal terrain for an airport, or even for flying for tht matter. We had the first flight out of Kathmandu (which you definitely want to get as weather often prevents flights from leaving at all), so our guide picked us up about 45 minutes beforehand and we headed to the airport. Security was next to nothing, liquids, pocket knifes, they didn’t seem to care what we had on us. Then we boarded an old bus which took us out to the plane on the far side of the airport. We weren’t exactly sure what type of plane we’d be on, but most of the planes heading to Lukla are the same little 19 seater, and we were no different. There were 3 seats per row in a 1 / 2 configuration, and they all collapsed forward if you pushed on them. The backs were basically just a thin frame covered in cloth, fine comfort-wise, but not the most sturdy.

Himalayas From the Air
Looking out the dirty window at the Himalayas on the flight from Kathmandu to Lukla

Taking off was slow, the pilots seemed to do some tests beforehand, or at least we hoped thats what was going on when the plane kept stopping and starting. We weren’t going very fast when we left the ground, and it wasn’t as bumpy as I expected in the tiny little plane. As we entered the mountains, I thought of some friends I met in Cambodia who were pilots in Indonesia, flying to all the remote airports there. They told me how turbulence was nothing to worry about in virtually all situations, but that poor visibility was what caused most planes to go down. In and out of cloud patches, often times just 40-50 feet from the mountains, I was pretty uncomfortable.

Plane Kathmandu To Lukla
The plane we took from Kathmandu to Lukla, refilling gas

I was happy to have my camera with me snapping pictures, it took my mind off the flight itself and helped me enjoy the scenery (which was gorgeous). Without realizing, 45 minutes later, the plane suddenly landed. My seat was in a position where I couldn’t see forward, and coming in on the cliff made the landing seem sudden. The plane stopping in time and the safe landing was a huge relief, we were 50% done. To be honest the flight itself was pretty nice, but knowing what could happen made it hard to fully enjoy.

Kathmandu From Plane
Views of the outskirts of Kathmandu as the plane pulls into the airport

Fast forward to somewhere near Dingboche, and our guide hanging up his cell phone. A similar plane to the one we took from Kathmandu to Lukla had gone down. 19 people on board, 19 dead, a terrible tradgedy. Our guide told us how it was not uncommon for these planes to go down, that on average 2 a year crash, and rarely does anyone survive. To ease our worries he also told us that on a nice day, there can be as many as 75 flights leaving the Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla (safely), which is a lot when you consider the fact that they don’t have an air traffic controller and barely have running water. On the flipside I read a story about people getting stranded in Lukla for 2 weeks because all flights were cancelled due to bad weather.

Flying Through the Mountains to Lukla
Cutting it pretty close along the mountain tops on the flight to Lukla (check out the waterfall in the background)

The flight back to Kathmandu from Lukla was a lot scarier, the most frightening of my life. We had moved our flight date, so we lost our slot as first flight out, meaning we were potentially in a race against time to get out before bad weather. The planes do laps between Kathmandu and Lukla, so when one arrives, the fill it up and send it back, and vice versa. This means they go in waves, with about 2 hours in between (45 minutes each way and some boarding / refueling time). The clouds were coming in by the time our plane arrived in the second wave, which had been delayed by about an hour making it even worse. You’ve also got to cope with your intense desire to get off the mountain to a hot shower and non-yak dung fire cooked meal, so if your flight is cancelled it’s a huge buzzkill. Would yourather risk a more dangerous flight or have your flight cancelled? We boarded our little 19 seater, same model as the one that had gone down just days ago on an Everest scenic flight, and took off from the 460 meter (~1640 ft.) runway which drops you off a cliff. Then the challenge is getting to elevation before the mountain directly in front of you, and seeing it in the onsetting clouds. As you know from me sitting here typing this on a bus to Las vegas, we were able to do this, and safely arrived back in Kathmandu 45 minutes later a group of 5 very happy trekkers.

Flying Kathmandu to Lukla (Worlds Most Dangerous Airport) Videos

Taking off on this tiny little aircraft for what we knew was to be a very sketchy flight was not fun. The Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla is known to be amongst the most dangerous in the world.

It was nice to focus on taking pictures and video from the plane, even though the windows were filthy, it kept my mind off the flight and upcoming landing in Lukla.

Videos of the Lukla to Kathmandu Flight

A plane taking off from the most dangerous airport in the world, Tenzing-Hillary in Lukla

The video of our plane taking off from the same airport in Lukla, and the scenic views from out the window

Videos of Lukla Airport Area Disastors

A news report about the plane that crashed killing everyone on board as we were descending from Everest Base Camp.

A terrible video of a plane crashing into the cliff in front of the Tenzing-Hillary airport. There is a reason why this is the most dangerous airport in the world, the clouds/fog come rolling in very quickly causing very poor visibility.

Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla Map

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