When you come into land at St Helena airport, the end of the runway stops suddenly and drops into the sea. Yep just right there in front of you – one second runway next second sea – runway – sea. Sea – runway! Well that’s what it looks like from inside the plane as the captain turns after touchdown.
In fact, Damian was explaining the landing to me as we were landing and I am quite relieved he did that at the time because it is quite an interesting concept and not one I would liked to have thought about too much beforehand.
Essentially as the plane is finishing its descent you fly past the island with the island on the left hand side. The captain does a u-turn to commence the final approach. You start to see the island quite quickly and you fly closely to the mountainous rocks. You actually fly in between two large rocks called King and Queens rocks as you land.
Because the runway is built on high land, it’s quite a strange sensation to see the sea so far below you, and then to suddenly land. You really don’t expect to land so soon. Then as the plane comes to a slower speed towards the end of the runway you notice the big drop!!
Since arriving I have been asked quite a few times ‘how was the landing?’ ‘Did you land on the first go?’
The airport has been opened for two years now and it’s still the most popular question on arrival. I had a thought that if the locals are asking whether you landed on the first attempt, I wonder how many flights have multiple attempts at landing. That’s good to know too just in case I come back in the future. Having been on a plane where there were two aborted landings is very scary but not so scary if you know it’s the normal here. I do know that the flights are often cancelled and on one occasion the plane had to return to Johannesburg because it couldn’t land.
So after a two-day journey and a short stop in Namibia for refuelling, we arrive at St. Helena island. My first impressions were good ones. The airport was bright and the team welcoming the passengers were extremely friendly. We had a short wait in immigration and then for our bags to be removed from the plane.
One thing I did notice as we were landing was that there was a viewing area in the airport that was packed with people watching the plane land. Because the airport is so new and some people hadn’t seen planes before and because it’s so new to the island, it’s become a bit of a past-time to watch the weekly planes come in. I do wonder if it is the multiple attempts or the challenging landings that attract the islanders. For a very small airport there were lots of people watching the weekly arrival.
After going through customs, we met Brenda who had arranged our travel, picked up a couple of others who were due to start contacts at the hospital; a new doctor and a mental health practitioner and then we were off on the 20 minute drive into Jamestown.
As we drove away from the airport, the driver asked us if we wanted to watch the plane leave. We sat in the minibus on the side of the road, watching the plane take off for its final leg of the journey. The plane was taking a group of passengers to the Ascension Islands which is two hours away for a night stop before returning to St Helena the following day for the return journey to Namibia and then final stop Johannesburg.
The driver started the van and we were off, I don’t know why because thinking about it afterwards St Helena is not in the same part of the world but I expected the island to be quite like the Falklands. It’s not, it’s totally different!