Flying in and out of Gustaf III airport in St. Barthélemy (St. Barts) is certainly a feast for the eyes, with the turquoise waters of the Bay of St. Jean at the end of the runway. However, it’s also dangerous, thanks to one of the sketchiest approaches of any airport in the world.
The approach into Gustaf III requires pilots to fly frighteningly close to traffic, crest a hill, and then fly downward toward the runway, before leveling out to land. It also has one of the shortest and narrowest runways of any airport in the world, at just 2,100 feet long and 60 feet wide. Due to its runway’s size and extreme approach, only small aircraft up to 19 passengers can take off and land at Gustaff III.
As planes come in to land, they get so close to traffic that they can actually hit vehicles and even people. The approach is so low that a photographer once was actually clipped in the back of the head by a plane’s landing gear.
American photographer Ed Gudenas was standing at the top of the hill, taking photos of planes landing. While aiming his camera toward the runway, with his back to an approaching 19-passenger DHC-6 Twin Otter, the plane’s left tire hit Gudenas in the back of the head, knocking him forward. Thankfully, he only needed a few stitches in his forehead from the fall down the hill. After being taken to the hospital, he was back at his hotel bar the same night.
Pilots who want to fly in and out of Gustaf III need to be specifically trained, not only in short field takeoffs and landings but also in between three sides of terrain. The latter of which can make windy days especially tricky. The two-degree downward slope of the runway itself doesn’t help, either. If pilots don’t stop short enough, they end up taking a swim in the Bay of St. Jean. It’s so dangerous that the airport requires pilots to get re-evaluated every six months.
Thankfully, once you do land safely, your survival is rewarded with gorgeous scenery and spectacular weather.
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