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SPECIAL TRAVEL ISSUE | SIDE TRIPS

Plane Scary : Lonely Planet guidebooks founder Tony Wheeler's scariest airports

April 19, 1998|Josh Susong

Aseki, Papua New Guinea--"The runways are often too short or run uphill or downhill so steeply you could almost fall over. When I flew into this one in 1977, the pilot pointed out that if we looked to the left, we'd see a mummified body perched in a cleft in the rock face." Tyangboche, Nepal--"The little airstrip is just above Namche Bazaar in the Sherpa region near Mt. Everest. It isn't often used, but when it is, you're either falling or flying at the end of the very short runway." Kai Tak Airport, Hong Kong--"It gets onto every scary airport list, but Hong Kong is exhilarating. I've always liked the way you could see the 'Seinfeld' reruns on people's TVs as you pass their apartment windows on the way down." Leh, India--"It's so high [11,500 feet], they can only fill half the aircraft with passengers. The air is so thin the engines can't develop enough power to get off the ground if the plane is full." Mt. Cook, New Zealand--"If you approach from the west it is truly impressive, coming down the glacier from Mt. Cook with the valley rising up on each side of you, and then, pop, there you are on the runway." Delta Camp's airstrip, Botswana--"They may have to chase the elephants off the runway first." Most frightening airport approach: "The scariest was in 1976 on an Aeroflot flight from Delhi. It was January, it was old with a capital C, it was foggy and Aeroflot was at its communist-era worst. We came down, down, down. When we finally emerged below the clouds, we were just feet off the ground but well off to one side of the runway. So up we went again, flew around again and then came down again. This time we were in line with the runway but way too early. So up we went again. When we finally got down on the ground, even the KGB heavies lined up in the back row seats seemed relieved."

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