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Final Approach to St. Maarten

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“Orbit Airlines Flight 1786 has the runway in sight,” I said in an exhausted voice to air traffic control. After 3 hours of flying, I was very happy to reach the sunny island of St. Maarten. “Roger,” Air Traffic Control radioed back. The Boeing 747-400 I was flying was prepared for the final approach to Princess Juliana International Airport. “Landing Gear?” “Down,” Jose Banderez, the co – pilot, acknowledged. This airport was one of the most challenging airports that I ever flew into. Aside from having being one of the shortest runways in the world, this runway was practically on the beach.


This was my fifth landing at this airport. All of my previous attempts weren't on my own. I was flying as co - pilot back then. “Flaps to 45.” “Flaps 45,” the co – pilot repeated back to me. “About 5 minutes,” I thought to myself. I looked at the panel over my head, checking if everything was in order... for the fourth time. “Orbit Airlines Flight 1786, you are clear to land.” “Clear to land, Orbit Airlines Flight 1786.” There we had it, the final transmission until landing. There we were, 416 tons of aluminum, hurling through the air at 207 miles per hour.


The jumbo jet was fully prepared for landing. Right at that moment, I could suddenly focus the people on Maho beach waving their arms at the plane. I slowly counted back until I would start the arming of speed brakes. 10, 9, 8... slow the plane down all the way... 7, 6, 5... pull back the plane for landing... 4, 3, 2... touchdown. “Arm the spoilers. “Spoilers armed,” I pulled back all the way on the throttle to initiate the reverse thrust feature.


100 miles per hour, then 75, then 50. We landed. I turned the plane off the runway on to the taxiway as Air Traffic Control confirmed our assigned gate number. As I slowed the plane down to a stop at gate 13, I said in an exhausted voice; “We're here!”





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