Good Morning Everybody,
I decided to break the above post and this post into two separate posts because speaks to one of the more crazy things I’ve done in my life. Please do not attempt this at home ;~) Anyway, just read on and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Every Now and Then…. You've Got To Do Something A Little Crazy
Many of you reading this post probably don't have any idea as to St. Maarten's other claim to fame. But it’s the coolest thing of all to do on a visit to this luscious Caribbean paradise. St. Maarten is home to one of the most exciting airports in the world - at least for St. Maarten beach goers.
Why? Because of the location of the Princess Juliana International Airport on the small island, the runway is a little shorter than usual compared to a large metropolitan airport. That means that when the jets make their landing into St. Maarten's they must approach the runway at a very low altitude and very close to the heads of the beach lovers.
We headed out to Sunset Beach to check out this usual airport phenomenon. The place was jammed packed with other thrill seekers. LaDawn and I made our way into the Sunset Beach Bar and Restaurant, found ourselves a comfy seat with a good view, ordered mahi-mahi burgers and beer, listened to the steel drum players and Reggae Island music with cameras in-hand we prepared to watch and see this spectacular show!
The landing times of the larger planes is common knowledge with all the servers and they are even posted on a surfboard chalkboard. We were do for the landing of the very large KLM jet in just about 30 minutes. Watching the smaller planes land was interesting but not spectacular.
About the time our food arrived, LaDawn spotted a large jet in the distance. It looked to be the KLM jet. As I watched the distant horizon I could easily see the large jet make a sweepingly big left hand turn and line up nose first with the airport runway. It was heading right towards us. This was looking to be a pretty exciting event.
The jet’s distance to the airport was several seconds away and that added appreciably to the experience. You could see the jet’s size gradually grow larger on the horizon. Yes, it was getting closer, much closer! You could hear the roar of the jet engines amplifying as the jumbo jet grew even larger and MUCH closer to the beach.
Everyone was waiting in excited anticipation. It didn't take but another moment to reach that climatic moment as the giant KLM jumbo jet blew across the heads of the multitudes on the beach.
WOW! That plane was close to the ground. As it sped overhead rapidly losing altitude, it seemed to just miss the chain link fence surrounding the airport and then touched down just a few hundred yards from the awestruck and cheering crowd. It was pretty cool!
Now Its Time To Really Get Crazy – Really Crazy!
Seeing the planes land right over your head was the fun part. Now let me tell you about really dumb things people do at the same beach. OK, it's cool be on the beach and watch the big jets land. But these same jets use the same runway for take off too.
They taxi out the same runway, make the left hand U-turn at the same chain link fence, and lineup for take off. But this time with engines pointed at the crowd of crazy onlookers ready to kick in the powerful jet engines at full throttle for the take off.
You see where I'm going with this. Yes, people do chose to STAND behind the fence directly in the path of the jet’s exhaust. Warning signs are everywhere alerting the more daring (crazy) folks of the possible impending danger of being “fried” by the jet’s exhaust. Still hundreds of would be observers line up behind the jet on the beach side of the fence to watch (feel) the full brunt of the jumbo jet’s take off.
There it was rolling towards the fence ready to stage it's takeoff - the large jumbo KLM jet we watched land just an hour or so ago. It made the turn at the end of the runway and aligned itself with the asphalt pavement.
The curious (crazy) crowds began to gather along the fence only about 50 or so yards from the jet engines.
I too made my way, not so close but at least to the beach which was still about 100 yards from the exhausts. I felt I was at a safer distance but standing there for just a few seconds I knew I might be in trouble since I could plainly feel the heat of the idling jet engines. I decided to move a greater distance away.
And then it happened! The pilot got the signal from the control tower that all was good for take off. In just a few seconds all H-LL broke loose. The pilot roared the huge engines to full throttle and the gases screened viciously at the unwitting crowd.
Everything happening at lightning speed – I quickly forgot any photographs I wanted of the take off. Everyone was being pelting with what seemed like a machine gun of BB's. The tiny black projectiles were targeting the crowd relentlessly, I heard screams everywhere, "OH SH-----T !!! OH SH-----T !!! OH SH---------T !!! As everyone tried to dive for the safety of the beach. It was pandemonium x10.
Yes, yours truly was part of that pandemonium. Finally with the jet was further down the runway and the pain and confusion subsided. Everyone was shocked, amazed, and fortunately unharmed by the experience. The black pellets, pebbles and sand dropped from our clothes thankful leaving no ugly stains.
I totally missed shooting the experience because I was diving for cover too but check out the You-Tube video below which really gives you a good idea of the craziness. It’s short but it’s a “hoot” and captures the exact feeling of the insanity ;~)
I found LaDawn in the fray or more correctly she found me. She had wondered into the perimeter of the danger zone and thought she was filming the entire event. She too was caught by surprise of the power of the jet engines at take off and was diving for cover herself. A quick check of her video verified the experience. The footage looked like it was from the Blair Witch Project or the Charles Manson Helter Skelter movie – it was total chaos in motion ;~).
To call the experience a BLAST would be an understatement ;~) But I have to say watching the planes land and take off (at a safe distance) is the absolute best "cheap thrill" a person can have on St. Maarten’s.
DAZNOTE: Turns out that this was more than just another jumbo jet landing at St. Maarten’s airport. We saw news crews with video cameras rolling during the landing event. What was the occasion? We learned from our taxi driver back to the ship that the King and Queen of the Netherlands was onboard that KLM jet. A nice surprise ending to a great and crazy experience.
Hey gang, that's it for me today. We’ve had some crazy times down here in St. Maarten’s but the memories will certainly be worth it.
Adios for now, David