When the sky doesn't clear, fly up.
To continue from where we left off: the pilots had aligned the plane for a second attempt at landing. The cloud was a little denser than our first attempt. I knew we were flying relatively low, between mountains. The runway was not visible, and neither were the mountains. Not good. I was sitting next to the emergency exit (not an accident) and between staring at the dashboard, the pilot's face and our guide's face to guage their reaction to the situation, I was also staring at the emergency exit lever, wondering how exactly I am meant to remove the cover, let alone fit through the tiny hatch, and should I succeed in doing this, how I might exit the plane without being sliced up by the propellers. I even turned to check our flight attendant's face, but received the obligatory neutral stare. The pilots made their decision and again turned about in a wide loop, and again we got a proximity warning, which the pilot closed without really reading it, and again peered into the haze looking for the other plane. I later learned from our guide that the pilots had made the call to divert the plane to another airport, but the traffic control at Lukla told them to give it another shot. I also learned later that all of our luggage had been left at Kathmandu airport, to go on a later flight. The reason for this was that they knew the weather was bad at Lukla, and were expecting they might have to have a few goes at landing, and didn't want to waste any fuel in a heavy load. Joy. Paul's attempts to calm me down consisted of tapping me on the shoulder and then pulling a wide mouthed grin. If I wasn't worried about unbalancing the teensy plane, I would have reached across the isle and slapped him. So, as we swing around our second loop, we climb higher, until we are out of the haze and the pilots can now see the edge of the cloud formation, and we have line of sight to the airport. The pilots now fly the plane down and over the edge of the cloud, and we dive for the runway. The landing from here was actually really straight forward. The plane lines up with the runway and we slide into it with barely a bump. Though the brakes are immediately slammed on; it is a short runway after all. We reach the top end of the runway, it's on a slight hill, and turn straight into the parking area on the right. I'm not satisfied that I can stop contemplating the operation of the emergency exit until the door at the back is open and people start descending the stairs. Safely on the ground, I had a minor meltdown conveying the finer details of our traffic proximity warnings and loop de loops to an oblivious Paul.
Lukla was cold, and a stark contrast to the very sweaty and sunny 30 degree day we enjoyed in Kathmandu. We instantly made the decision to buy more layers at the earliest opportunity.
And here are our post landing faces:
And here are some photos showing the kind of plane we flew in, and just how short a runway can be: