IN his continuing search for the more weird, wacky and wondrous in this world, David Ellis says that when it comes to white-knuckle flying, there’s nothing beats landing or taking-off on the tiny Caribbean island of Saba, where the world’s shortest commercial airport runway measures a mere 400-metres from end to end.
And at each of those ends falls 60m straight into the ocean, so pilots know they really need to get it right.
Way back in 1959 when the islanders were looking for a quicker connection to their larger and nearest neighbour of St Barts in place of the often stormy crossing by sea, a swashbuckling St Barts pilot named Remy F. de Haenen, said that if they could hand-clear a small strip on their so-called Flat Point he would fly-in with his small plane to show that an air connection could indeed be possible.
And although he achieved the flight, the-then colonial Dutch administrators of Saba showed no interest in building a proper airstrip. So the-just 1600 residents spent all their free hours over the next four years hand-clearing a 400m strip from cliff-edge to cliff-edge at Saba’s narrowest point, compacting the ground and bitumen sealing it.
Today four, 12-minute flights a day by 16-passenger Twin Otter aircraft link Saba with neighbouring St Barts, carrying locals, inquisitive tourists and important cargo to the tiny island outpost.
And even the locals who make the flight regularly, confess – like often ashen-faced visitors – to bracing themselves white-knuckled for the landing and take-off from the world’s shortest commercial airstrip.