Just Plane Scary

We nearly didn´t get back on.

A short flight had seemed far more preferable than a 21-hour pothole-fest of a bus from La Paz to our jungle jump-off point of Rurrenabaque. But it was, in short, one of the most terrifying experiences either of us have ever had.

All had gone smoothly at first: picked up from our hostel, driven with the usual South American panache to the small airport at El Alto, easy security, cup of tea. Even the sight of our tiny plane – propellors, eighteen seats, two pilots and some slightly dubious looking rivets- made us smile. Yes, it was jolly, if a little apprehensive, before take off.

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And yet within a few seconds of being airborne, it all felt quite wrong. The engine noise was unbearably loud. We could see directly out of the front window and witness every move the pilots were making. We could hear every bleep from the equipment in the cockpit, each one seeming to signal impending disaster. We could feel every bump as we rode the air pockets. Mountains rose up in front of us and the knowledge that beyond them lay thick jungle was no comfort.


Worse was to come. After another five or so minutes the turbulence rivalled the biggest of dippers and the view out of the window got no further than the tired old propellers, which seemed intent on chugging and coughing to a mid-air stop, Hollywood-style, should they be looked at for more than a couple of seconds. Passengers clutched at their seat bottoms and tried to think of anything other than how wholly unnatural and unnerving the experience was. People prayed, there were some tears. Nobody spoke.

The guidebook had promised ‘stunning views’. All we could see was rain lashing against the ageing porthole windows that had last been replaced, a sticker informed us, as recently as 1991. Alarms, bleeps and wails emanated every 20 seconds from the cockpit. Lightening flashed outside. Knuckles and faces whitened, the co-pilot glanced nervously around. We bounced. Surely we were there? Half an hour had turned into forty-five minutes as we continued to be whipped from side to side and up and down. Surely we’d been put through enough?

More nervous glancing and another big dipper later and a crackled announcement came over the crackling speaker. The captain spoke, but had he turned around we could have lip-read. We were four minutes from landing and descending rapidly. With eyes screwed shut we were hurtling towards the jungle. Then, the engines roared even further and suddenly we were climbing again. The jungle would have to wait. More from El Capitan: the landing was impossible – we were aborting and turning tail back to La Paz. The weather had defeated our futile human efforts to fly through the air in an early 80s Bolivian prop-plane. Groans, cries and wails. We had another half-hour to suffer, and then another flight to try later, if we dared. To the sound and smell of vomit and tears, we headed back. We would have to gird our loins again later.

In the event, half of the passengers refused to reboard. We nearly didn’t get back on…

5 Comments to “Just Plane Scary”

  • Glad you made it ok. No one learns to sail in good weather! Very happy that it is being a proper experience. Very envious…x

    • Verdad but you really wouldn’t have been jealous of that journey. Apparently the guides watched our failed landing from below…with horror! Wish you were here! X

  • Is that a tool kit sitting between pilot and co-pilot? Any mid-air maintenance performed on any of your many trips on the plane? Were you treated to the promised stunning views second time around? Glad you’re having a great adventure. Makes the 0744 York to Leeds seem positively predictable; and it’s not.

    • No stunning views! At least I don’t think so – decided that iPod at full blast and eyes closed was the best policy. More turbulence and landed in rain, but all worth it in the end…just! Hope all’s well in York x

  • Oh wow!!!!!!!!!! Mum and Dad ‘s prayers for your safety was heard strong powerfull and effective!!!!!! – THANKS GOD, you guys are safe now…xx