Friday, 2 January 2009

Landing in Mangalore


In some of my recent blog posts, I have written about the difficulty of and the time taken to travel from Bombay to Mangalore during the days before the opening of the Konkan Railway. You could travel by train or by bus, but both were tedious and time-consuming. There was a third alternative of course, and that was to take a flight. The flight time was less than an hour and one could travel in relative comfort and style. What then was the problem?

The problem was that the mere prospect of landing in Mangalore airport in the ageing Boeing 737s of Indian Airlines filled me with such abject terror; I could not sleep for days prior to the flight.

Now, before the corners of your mouth curl down in barely-disguised contempt and you start rummaging in your vocabulary for the perfect adjective for such weak-kneed quavering, I beseech you to close your eyes and visualise this:

Imagine a hillock, the top of which has been flattened to build a short—and it is really short at 5200 feet—runway. Imagine also that at both extremities of the runway, the edges of the hill drop away precipitously into a blue haze. And, if you have not already switched off mentally by now, imagine that the runway is not level, but slopes down from east to west, almost by 30 feet.

All these factors combine to ensure that landing in Mangalore airport, especially if you are occupying a window seat, is not an experience for the weak-hearted. The pilot has to touch down precisely at one extremity of the runway, apply the brakes immediately, and bring the aircraft to a complete stop at the other end. Any small error would mean either a crash during the final approach or the aircraft overshooting the runway and plunging into the arecanut trees 300 feet below.

On one such flight, Heinz Lehmann is my co-passenger, to whom I solicitously offer the window-seat. As we start our descent into Mangalore, the aircraft is buffeted by heavy turbulence. It is a heaving, tumultuous descent and we go down, down, down. Heinz is looking out of the window anticipating level ground to rise up and meet us and all he can see is hills and valleys all around. His is the aspect of a man, whose heart seems to be in a hurry to convene with his tonsils and probably go further on. I can see his knuckles tightening on the armrests and for a moment when he turns around to look at me, there is sheer panic in his eyes.

Suddenly at the very last moment when you see the runway, you are already on it and the brakes come on. The whole aircraft seems to shudder and scream at the effort. As we turn around and taxi back to the terminal, Heinz looks at me and smiles wanly.

I can see his face is bathed in perspiration.

14 comments:

RZD said...

All my landing experiences in Mangalore are so unlike from what you describe and for sure not as bad as you make it sound to be, in fact I could call most of them amazing.

Rada said...

RZD, landing in Mangalore these days (with the new runway opened in 2005,) is a breeze, I agree. The incident I narrate, happened during the early 1980s when Mangalore was really a "table-top" airport!

Razigan said...

I don't think, the officials would construct such a dangerous airport......

However, I really felt like landing in that risky Mangalore airport........

Nicely written.

Cynic in Wonderland said...

Okay I HAVE to stop reading about hazardous plane stuff -
a) I suffer from vertigo
b) i am a coward and I hate planes c) i have read stuff like this http://solitarycynic.blogspot.com/2007/12/one-small-flying-story-or-why-fact-is.html and

now d) RUNWAYS? I thought those were safe.

Bah

Desipundit said...

http://www.desipundit.com/2009/01/01/landing-in-mangalore/trackback/

Velayudhan said...

Kuttetta, ATR flights to Goa via Calicut and Mangalore and back during monsoon season is a test for your mental strength.

indicaspecies said...

Well described, and I've experienced such landings quite a few times at the ''table-top'' Mangalore airport in Bajpe.

I recall reading that a few years back, because of adverse weather conditions, one of the flights could manage to begin landing from only about half way down the runway and the result was the aircraft overran the runway into the valley! Fortunately, it came to finally rest against two big boulders and all passengers were subsequently saved.

Of course, this incident occurred before the construction of the recently completed new runway.

gauri said...

Heard so much about beautiful Mangalore, I've always wanted to visit the place. One would think being married to a Manglorean might help - apparently it does not :-\.

I've been reading your posts pretty frequently; discovered the blog from T-DNA & Naren's blogs. Your crisp and straight-from-the-heart narration is really endearing.

-g

Rada said...

@Razigan:Please read "Indicaspecies" comment above!
@Cynic:Fear of Flying? You are not alone! :-)
@Velus: Yes, I know. ;-)

jaaj said...

actually, the experience is not a great deal different from landing at calicut or coimbatore even now! i know, coimbatore is on the plains, but you could still go beyond the runway!!

Renu said...

Thankfully I was too young & hence ignorant of all these finer details, the 2-3 times that I may have flown to mangalore. But the road trips were equally scary. I recollect that back then I would'nt like travelling by ghatge patil buses because of the word "ghat" in it... :) eerie ain't that?
Lately all your posts have been about going to mangalore... maybe its time to make a trip :)

Nilay said...

hey .... today ur horrfying dream came true....
i knew tht if airport is in hilltop..
someone must have written something abt it before..
n i found ur blog..
it was really a tragic accident...

i wonder why they have construted airport in a hilltop,n have a slope like runway,im disgusted by this fact...
n plane was the same ageing boeing 737.. offcourse of Air India...
even Intellectual n alert people like u knew abt it... tht it is dangerous..

In our Country, life is very cheap...
still we say mera bharat mahaan..
Disgusting..

iam sure if this type of runway made up in foreign country,after knowing,tht its risky... they would have built the new airport.. actually they wouldnt have built hilltop airport at first instance at all.
but i dont think this will happen in India...
iam damn sure they will continue use tht runway in future also...

Rajesh Nair said...

And now the terrible thing happened!

Peter said...

Not forgetting to mention it was a new plane too, 737-800 is new technology.

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Stepping Sideways... by K. Radhakrishnan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.