The alarm clock went off at 5:30am and, before really waking up, I looked out the window to check the weather. It had been raining all night long, but the runway was clearly visible and the cloud ceiling hung a good 500 meters above it.
Like the day before, I quickly packed up my backpack and walked over to the airport building to look for our pilot. He was busily installing seats into the back of the plane (a good sign) and told us to wait a few minutes … but that we would be getting going as soon as he had fueled up.
While we waited, a Twin Otter landed to take the first 12 regular passengers out (later I heard, that it would be the only one that day … adding to the backlog).
The pilot now told us to hurry, we threw our packs into the cargo hold, crawled into the plane and were on the runway before any of us had figured out how to put on the (very rudimentary looking) seat belts
The take-off was very smooth (a runway that is angled down a few degrees helps) and we airborne.
I had a pretty good view out the front and it was a lot of fun to see the pilot zig-zagging around the clouds. With a single engine (and unlike the Twin Otters) he has to fly by VFR, which means that he can’t fly through clouds or loose visibility with the ground.
The first 15 minutes went fine but then the clouds in front of us got bigger and thicker until I couldn’t see a single opening anymore. We were flying pretty low (in valleys, not above them) and, truth be told, even though I love flying, I got a bit worried at this point.
All of the sudden, the pilot banked hard right, turned the plane around and (just as I was thinking that he would be going back to Lukla) aimed it a field down below in the valley. A minute later we were on the ground.
We all crawled out of the plane and he told us that this is a small grass strip that he uses sometimes if the weather is not good enough to make it all the way to Kathmandu. “Not to worry. Have a cup of team and wait. I will fly you to Kathmandu later when the weather is better”.
We hung around for about three hours, drinking tea, watching kids play cricket and chatting with the pilot. It turns out that he usually flys cargo around Nepal, but also sometimes takes passengers out on the way back … we were pretty lucky, as he happened to be in Lukla after a cargo delivery (roofing material) and was empty for his way back to Kathmandu. He’s been doing this for 15 years and, as you can imagine, had a lot of interesting stories to tell.
After a few calls to Kathmandu, he finally got a “good enough” weather report (apparently, he is only allowed to fly into the airport with at least 5 km of visibility) and we all got back into the plane.
All in all a very good decision to go with the small plane instead of staying on the waiting list … I’m sure I would have been stuck for a few more days, as the backlog keeps building up.