heck out one of the scariest airports in the world where planes fly so dangerously low over people’s heads, yet it has become an attraction drawing tourists from all over the world.
Some time ago I and my travel buddy joined an eager crowd at Maho Beach where the most spectacular jet landings and take-offs happen daily just outside the runway of Princess Juliana International Airport in Sint Maarten in the Caribbean Islands.
We missed the jet that landed several minutes earlier and we were waiting for the next one about 10 minutes away. I tried to find a spot somewhere between the beach and the fence and among bodies in swimsuits sprawled on beach towels, making sure that my camera had sufficient memory in my card and full batteries. We were there for a quick stop that afternoon and I wanted to capture the best photos possible.
Very soon, we spotted an aircraft approaching from a distance and I braced myself for my very first and closest encounter with a landing plane. The aircraft got bigger and bigger as it got closer and adrenaline pumped.
Before I knew it, Delta Airlines was roaring over our heads, stirring sand and excitement before landing at the runway a few meters away.
That has so far been the scariest and most hair-raising airplane landing I’ve ever seen. I was too mesmerized and discovered I managed to snap only a few photos.
The Princess Juliana International Airport has an unusually short runway of only 2180 meters and in order for airplanes to have a smooth landing, the aircraft has to fly so low right over Maho Beach and right over where hundreds of people are courting danger excitedly taking photos and videos of the impressive sight.
Maho Beach is directly under the flight path, making it more dangerous for people to be blown out to the water from jet blast. Dozens had been injured by the jet blasting the past years and one woman was killed in July 2017 by a Caribbean Airlines jet blast when she was blown away and her head smashed into concrete. Yet people continue to ignore the warning signs because the thrill and excitement are just too irresistible.
On any given day, the beach is sprawling with people from all parts of the world either sunbathing, eating, or drinking at the beach bars spread all over the shorelines, swimming in the clear waters, spread out in the sand in towels, or just lounging around with their cameras and cellphones ready for the next airplane landing.
Beach bar owners display the flight schedules at their bars, so you know when is the next landing. Whatever you want to do, being at Maho Beach is definitely worth your time.
Sint Maarten is unique because it is divided into two sides—Sint Maarten is the Dutch side where Maho Beach and the cruise port terminal is, and Sint Martin is the French side. Less than an hour’s drive and you get to cross the border to both sides.
The Dutch side has a bubbling atmosphere and exudes more of the U.S. flavors, bursting with life with numerous casinos and bars, and nightclubs. It is a melting pot of Asian, European, and Indian cultures, and they use the US dollar and other currencies.
The French side adopts a slightly more tranquil European atmosphere and refined French customs. The French side uses Euros for currency and is the best choice if you want a quieter pace of life.
Communication between the two sides is considered long distance. If you need to call somebody it would be cheaper just to drive over instead of paying international rates.
No matter which side of the island you are on, you get the best of both worlds.
Hurricane Irma blasted Sint Maarten in October 2017, leaving extensive damage all over the island but the economy continues to recover. Most airlines have resumed flights to the island, although the airport is still being repaired in phases.
Note that there are more flights landing in the afternoons than in the mornings. Keep out of the fence when an aircraft is about to land. Enjoy but take precautions.
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