Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Longest 15 Minutes

This post is entirely out of order with my other planned Ladakh posts, but it's all the energy I could muster this morning before work....

Leh is situated at an elevation of 11,500 feet, which means that its airport also rests at or near that same height. All flights in and out of Leh are early in the morning to reduce the chance of weather impacting the flight. As an example, our short Jet Airways flight landed in Leh at 7:55am. That was the later of two choices, the first had departed Delhi at 5:30am and arrived before 7.
Outside arrivals at the airport in Leh where I'm not sure photography is allowed
This isn't a story about landing at the high airport (though the flight from Delhi to Leh is magnificent, we had clear views of the Himalayas nearly the entire way and you land between two mountain ranges that seem closer than they need to be). This is a story of our flight back in Delhi. The only "odd" thing about leaving Leh is the strict security at the airport (they encourage you to carry nothing on the plane except valuables). Off course, given the fact you're technically in Kashmir in a city with a heavy military presence, the strict security makes sense.

The flight back to Delhi was uneventful until our approach. As we descended near the airport, we entered a very dark cloud which happened to be a monsoon rain cloud hovering over the airport. Almost immediately, the plane hit heavy turbulence and was violently shaken. Quickly, we felt the plane gain altitude again. My first aborted landing.

A couple minutes later the captain came on the loudspeaker with the following message (and I'm paraphrasing for the most part here as Jet refused my request to listen to the little black box):

"As you could probably tell, there were heavy rain storms situated above the airport in Delhi and we've had to abort our landing. We'll be making a quick circle over the region and then give it another try."

He continued, and this isn't a paraphrase, this is a direct quote:

"We have fifteen minutes of fuel left."

And then there was silence. He didn't say "we have 15 minutes of EXTRA fuel before we need to land at a different airport"; he didn't say something more general like, "there are extreme weather issues in Delhi, we're going to stay in the area for a short time before heading to an alternative and safer location to land." He was specific. The reaction on the plane was a nice mix of bewildered looks between people where they were obviously thinking "did he just say that" and outright nervousness.

Strangely, in the moment I wasn't worried about death (regardless of how remote that chance actually was). I was worried that I had 1300 (in my humble opinion) awesome photos documenting an unbelievable trip that our family and friends might never see.

That thought quickly vanished as we made a run at another landing. The heaviest of the clouds had cleared, and as you can rightly assume since you're reading this post, the plane landed without issue.

Note: Not a good month for the Luth children and planes as my younger sister and her husband were on a flight from Moline to Denver that had to make an emergency landing somewhere in South Dakota, fire trucks and all. I think she wins the "who had the worst flight" award.

As we were taxiing, our friend Judith heard a passenger in the row behind us nervously state, "that was seventeen minutes."

I guess we'll never know how close we were.

1 comment:

  1. wow!!!....thats an exciting landing for sure!!!!