Adventures in Belize: Emergency Landing
So far my season in Belize has been anything but uneventful. Let’s start with my arrival. Without boring you with the details of all my flights, buses and taxi rides, I will take you to the last stage of my journey to Dangriga: a flight from Belize City.
The Municipal Airport is located at the water’s edge: in fact the airstrip was built on the water. The Airport Authority is upgrading the airstrip, roughly doubling its length. When I was there, the 18th of November, they hadn’t done any construction yet. But they did leave a pile of rocks at the west end, which turned out to be a lifesaver of sorts.
The strip runs east-west, presumably to take advantage of the easterly trade winds that predominate here. Taking off into the wind gives an advantage of lift, especially on a rather short runway. This day, however, the wind was from the NNW. The plane was full: I only got on because a passenger failed to show on time. Lucky me. So we taxied to the E end of the runway and spun around. This is a Cessna Caravan, a single-engine plane with seats for about twelve passengers, and a big belly for luggage and cargo. Turns out it holds a lot of cargo.
As we started down the runway, the pilot had to dodge a couple of potholes before letting the throttle fly. We bounced down the runway, gathering speed, but I remember there seemed to be precious little runway remaining and we still hadn’t lifted off the ground. Finally, just as we ran out of road, the plane lifted steeply, so steeply that it seemed more like we were intending to head into space, rather than merely fly away. At that moment there was a loud crash as the tail of the plane collided with a pile of rocks, left at the end of the runway. The impact levelled us out and we just cleared the mangroves and began to gain altitude at a less alarming angle.
Instead of flying on to Dangriga, we went straight to the International Airport, just outside of town and made an emergency landing. The tail was not sufficiently damaged to affect the plane’s ability to fly, but I presume they needed to land it somewhere they could have it checked and repaired before taking off again. I say presume, because no one said a word to us about the whole affair. We were taken off the plane, along with all of our luggage and a lot of cardboard boxes, and made to wait outside, in the shade while they got another plane and another pilot. Once that was arranged, they loaded our luggage aboard and left all the boxes behind. A wise move, I thought. Other than that, my trip to Belize was uneventful.