April 12,13th, 2019
Namche to Lukla and to Kathmandu
Hike back to Lukla is always bittersweet. I wanted to soak in the beauty and the serenity of the mountains, wilderness and fresh air. I took one last look at the carved mani mantras in the stones and said goodbyes to the prayer flags till the next time
Walking back on the suspension bridges felt just as thrilling as the first time. One last Nepalese lunch at the Phakding, and a few hours later, we were at Lukla.
I ordered a glass of wine with dinner, we all celebrated our success. We gathered with our Extollo team and porters, distributed well-deserved tips to our hardworking crew and danced together on Nepalese tunes.
Extollo’s team of guides were a big part of our success. We all witnessed the hard work that went behind the scenes, which made out lives in the mountains easier. Starting from running to get hot water to wash our faces and brush, to getting cough drops to soothe our Khumbu cough, carrying our daypacks and opening our water bottles when our fingers were frozen, and tying our shoelaces.. I can go on and on, there were countless times our wishes had come true before even asking, they were always watchful and vigilant.
Our flight back to Kathmandu was the next day. babu said we would catch Tara Air’s 8 am flight, so we decided to gather for breakfast at 7.
Next morning, we walked to the airport, which was literally behind our teahouse, and finished our paperwork and luggage formalities. The gentleman at the security checkpoint patted the men in the group for a personal check while us ladies went with a female security officer.
There was a waiting area, where we waited for our flight. Our flight was third or fourth in line, Babu said. We started watching landings and take-offs from the large glass window overlooking the airstrip. I made a joke that this was rated the world’s most dangerous runway, but there have been a very few incidents happened here so ultimately it’s one of the safe airports. Watching the planes fly in and out the really short – a few hundred feet short – runway which stands on the cliffside is a treat not only for aviation nerds but just about anyone else.
Some of the planes were going back empty to get more tourists up, the peak season was starting up and more people were flowing in the mountains than the trekkers who were leaving.
We watched this empty plane by Summit Air departing the main area and getting positioned to take off. The pilot turned the engine up and caught the necessary speed to be able to take off, seconds later, we saw it getting wobbly and then falling off the runway on the right-side landing on the helipads crashing into two helicopters. An unbelievable scene just happened in front of our eyes. Before we could process what just happened, people from the entire airport just rushed outside on the runway. We ran as well, there was an airplane collided with two choppers, dust, smoke, spilled oil, people everywhere, a body of an injured person, someone’s brain on the side of the runway, it was the biggest chaos I have ever seen. Everything happened so quick that it felt unreal, the tragic scene I just witnessed was so sad that my heart sank, it left us speechless.
People started making speculations about how this may have happened. Himalayan Times reported the next day that the incident took three lives – copilot of the airplane, pilot of one of the choppers and the officer who just patted us down at the security line an hour ago. The accident was due to a wrong judgment call from the pilot who failed to correct the trainee pilot’s error.
Having to eye-witness this horrific ending of the Summit Air’s aircraft, thinking and rethinking of what could’ve and should’ve been done by everyone involved for the safety of – notoriously listed as – the world’s most dangerous airport, I just hoped that the situation got properly assessed and serious lessons be learned for the safety of the Himalayan travelers, airport staff, crew members, and the locals. I prayed for the ones who lost their lives and for their families.
All the flights to Kathmandu were canceled for the day, we realized that we were stranded there with no way to get back to Kathmandu, which also meant we would be missing our international flights. Not just us, everyone at the airport were stuck till the next day, till they would clean up, access the incident and reopened the airport. It was afternoon by now and clouds had started rolling in. Our guides were constantly in touch with Kathmandu office and finally, to our surprise, Naba ji from the base office manage to send three choppers to get us out.
We all reached to Kathmandu in the afternoon, we met up with the rest of the team who reached there the day before after their successful trip to the Everest Base Camp, and went out for celebratory dinner. we also celebrated Arnav’s 18th birthday and his amazing feat to conquer Island Peak. I was still shaken up from the Lukla incident and stayed scarred – for a long time.