If you can stand to keep your eyes open, the view out the airplane window during landing at Lukla Airport will stay with you forever.
At first, a white haze of cloud cover will obscure the surrounding mountains. Then, as the plane descends, a tiny gray strip at an elevation of 9,100 feet will appear in the distance, almost camouflaged by surrounding greenery. This 65 by 1,500-foot patch of asphalt is the runway. At its southern end is a 2,000-foot drop into a valley. At its northern end, a stone wall and a hairpin turn.
If all goes well, you'll hit the tarmac with little more than a few bumps and lurches. That odd sensation of traveling uphill is not an illusion: the runway has a gradient of 12 percent—meaning when a plane takes off, it plunges downhill toward a 2,000-foot abyss.
Accidents are common—between October 2008 and October 2013, four small Lukla-bound aircraft crashed, killing 33 people. The airport does close in fierce winds and poor visibility, but weather in the mountains changes so rapidly that a flight may already be airborne when conditions become dangerous.
Hair-raising airports around the world:
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