A very quiet day in Kathmandu

Why? Well, it is related to a post I wrote, but didn't publish on October 24th of last year:


I was on the Turkish Air red-eye from Istanbul last night, set to arrive in Kathmandu at 6:15 in the morning. A fortunate seating had me with 4 seats to myself at the back, guaranteed sleep and a full day of work the next day. At least in theory! It was the same flight my brother and his wife were on a month before, and the same flight my children were on last December.

The sleep part worked great, I was up and ready to go as we approached the airport. Then the first announcement: We were not cleared for landing, we needed to circle for a half hour. That was ok. It was the first flight of the day for the Tribhuvan International Airport, the only airport in the region. My fellow passengers, mostly Germans, gazed out the windows at the Himalayas breaking through the clouds on either side as we circled the valley. At the end of the half hour we descended into the valley, into the clouds. In my mind's eye, I imagined the descent as it was on clear days, flying through the gap that leads down to the plains of Nepal and the border of India. The foothills that seem to rise up quickly as the jet approaches Kathmandu... but my recollection was interrupted by the roar of the engines and the plane tilted into a sudden steep climb. The voices in the cabin stopped. There was something wrong. We were pushed back into our seats. We popped out of the cloud cover. Nothing gentle about it. We were in a steep climb. "Were the mountains supposed to be so close?" I thought. 

The pilot calmly said that the runway wasn't ready. We circled awhile longer. Then the pilot came on again and stated we were going to Dhaka, in Bangladesh, an hour away. Dhaka was clear and we had no problems landing there. The plane parked and was refueled as we waited in the plane. I searched for a wifi signal, but none to be had. What was Linda thinking? Around noon, we took off from Dhaka and headed back to Kathmandu, and without any issues, we were safe, but late, back home.


So what does that story have to do with a quiet weekend? The Kathmandu valley is not large, but it is surrounded on three sides by some of the largest mountains in the world. When the large jets leave the airport, they generally do a circle climbing out. The common joke is that if you live in Kathmandu, you live in the flight path of the airport.

Last Wednesday morning, the Turkish Air flight tried to make a landing, but there was too much fog. It circled the airport, then tried again. For reasons still to be determined, it missed the center line of the runway and skidded into the grassy (and damp) area between the runway and the taxi way. No one was hurt, but the front landing gear sunk into the mud and the plane blocked the runway.

It is still there, 72 hours later. Blocking the only way by air into the valley.
Niranjan Shreshta/AP

Apparently, up to 40 thousand people are affected. Travelers, business people, and workers returning home, or trying to get back to jobs overseas. I feel sorry for them.

But here in the valley, it is oddly quiet.

More can be found here.

Update: As we were departing to Bangkok I saw the Turkish air jet is still here, but in disguise. 


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