This is my first posting guys so please be gentle in your criticism!
In June my partner and I spent a week on the Caribbean island of Antigua - a package purchased in the UK which as it turned out, I timed perfectly as we flew with BWIA, out from LHR by L1011-500 and back by their "new" A340. Needless to say, the L1011 was much more fun!
Anyway, whilst in ANU, I got to thinking about one of my all time aviation ambititions - a flight to the exclusive island of St.Barts and it's infamous airport. Trawling round a few local travel agents in St.Johns, I was offered a fare of about ??185 for a day trip ANU - SBH via SXM on Liat and Winair. I thought about it for a minute or two and decided to take the plunge!
Got a taxi to the airport (and let me tell, Antigua isn't cheap!) and there was only one group ahead of me in the Liat check-in - a large American(?) family with lots of baggage and lots of young kids - fortunately they were not on my flight! There is no seat allocation on Liat (which I don't like) so it was a case of "sharpening the elbows" when getting on board! I got a seat one row from the back on V2-LEU - a DHC-8 series 300. We back-tracked along Antigua's south-westerly runway and soon made a spritely take-off towards the north-east, turning after the off for a more north-westerly heading. There was no service of any kind on the 30 minute flight but the crew were fine. Looking out of the window about 20 mintues later I saw a smallish island and hoped that maybe that was St.Barts, I heard the passenger in front of me ask the stewardess and she confirmed it was! Even at this height it was possible to see the miniscule runway, tucked behind a hill! The landing at SXM was fine, we took a wide swoop and crossed the road, landing on whatever that runway is there - it was fun, but I knew the best was yet to come.
At SXM, even if you have a direct transfer, you still have to clear immigration and customs, then re-enter security for your next flight, fortunately SXM is relatively small and reasonably efficient. The passport officer never asked my reasons for my short visit! After about an hour is was time to board PJ-WIH the Twin Otter to SBH, we followed the gate agent out to the aircraft (free seating again obviously) and there were only about 5 passengers on board. Now, I've been on over 500 flights but I must admit to getting a little nervous at this stage! I'd seen a picture in "Flight International" shortly before I left the UK of a Twin Otter that hadn't made the runway on SBH, having crashed into the hill on the opposite side of the runway, killing all on-board. Blimey!
There were no cabin crew of course so the safety briefing was given by the captain before start-up, a nice touch. The Otter rocked and swayed as we taxied out to the active. An application of (full?) power and away we went after what I would guess to be a roll of less than ten seconds. Our flight time to SBH was estimated at 10 minutes. We banked hard right after leaving the ground thus avoiding the hills at the far end of the airport, which must be quite something on a 747 or MD11!
After what seemed a very short time period, the island of St.Barts came into view on the left side and the captain announced we'd be on the ground in less than a minute! The Otter became quite unsteady at this point, rocking wildly in the turbulence off the hills below - but not very far below. We made a small left turn in the vecinity of Gustavia, the capital, and then a much tighter left to line up. The engines increased pitch markedly at this point and flaps were lowered, and we adopted a very pronounced pitch down attitude. The ground came up very fast at this stage and I was aware of crossing the road on the hill overlooking the airport, then bushes and vegetation within touching distance outside the window! The aircraft flared as we passed the light aircraft hangers and touched down gently but firmly on the concrete. As we back tracked the runway (having used only half!) the rather glamorous lady in front turned to me a laughed - I was as white as a sheet!! I wouldn't have missed it for the world!