Plane Spotting, Caribbean-Style

Plane Spotting, Caribbean-Style

Ah, to be on a beach in the Caribbean. The sun. The sand. The clear blue waters. The roar of airplanes. The smell of engine fuel. The danger of jet blasts.

There can be a fine line between a travel experience that’s cool and one that is perilous. At Mahó beach, on the Dutch side of the island of St. Maarten’s, that line is about 12 meters wide. That’s the distance between the vacationers on the beach and the start of the main runway at Princess Juliana International Airport.

maho st maarten airport beach 2 Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style follow me on pinterest button Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style

 Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style

space Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style

There are, of course, many airports with parks and observation decks close to their runways. Hamburg has a fantastic coffee shop with airport views. In Dubai, the JW Marriott Hotel features superb views from their runway-facing rooms. Yet, no other airport has plane-spotting opportunities quite like Mahó beach. A rare combination of four factors are at work:

• The short runway, hemmed in by the beach on one side and the mountains on the other, forces landing planes to touch down on the tarmac as soon as possible.

• Because of said short runway, and also because of the crosswinds, planes approach the airport at a lower altitude than is typical.

• There’s a public beach at the most active end of the airport’s most active runway. Plus, while most airports have a buffer zone (often a grass field) between the runway and the outer security barrier, there’s virtually no such buffer at Princess Juliana.

• Being St. Maarten’s main airport, huge airplanes (including Boeing 747s) take off and land here.

maho st maarten airport beach s2 Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style follow me on pinterest button Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style Add that all up, and beach goers on Mahó can literally enjoy a quiet swim one minute and get buzzed by a long haul aircraft the next.

Landing airplanes — especially the larger ones — can fly in as low as 10 meters (32 feet) above people’s heads.

When a 747 lands at the airport, its wheels might touch down while the tail end of the plane is still above the people watching at the fence!

It all seems impossibly close. Photos of landing planes look like they’ve been manipulated in PhotoShop. Or that the photos are of a landing that’s gone wrong. In fact, planes routinely land on St. Maarten like this.

Airport fence surfing

As exciting as it is watching planes arrive, experiencing a departure can be even more thrilling/harrowing. Planes typically take off from the far end of runway number 10 with their engines facing Mahó Beach. When they power up for take off, the jet engines of the larger planes can shoot out warm air at more than 160 kh/h (100 mph)! Daring onlookers watch while “fence surfing” — grabbing onto the fence immediately behind the airplane and holding on for dear life. (Check out the video, below).

Fence surfing is an arguably better alternative than remaining on the beach directly behind the airplane. There, the jet blast whips up the sand, creating a miniature version of the sort of storm you’d expect in the Sahara. If you find yourself here during a take off, close your eyes — and mouth — tightly.

[ ALSO FROM SCS: The World's 10 Coolest Airlines ]

Or, apply some caution and watch the plane take offs and landings from a nearby safer distance. You’ll still be treated to an incredible sight, just without all the (small but not non-existent) risk of injury and death.

Most large aircraft arrive and depart around mid-morning and mid-late afternoon. Bring your camera. And your health insurance.

published: 10 Sept 2014
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  One could argue that Skiathos in Greece offers a similar experience, but the planes that use that airport aren’t nearly as large.

space Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style

Video & Photos Planes Landing at St. Maarten

maho st maarten airport beach 3 Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style follow me on pinterest button Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style

space Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style
scs kindle ad 270 Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style follow me on pinterest button Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style  Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style

maho st maarten airport beach 6 Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style follow me on pinterest button Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style

maho st maarten airport beach 8 Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style follow me on pinterest button Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style

maho st maarten airport beach 9 Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style follow me on pinterest button Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style

maho st maarten airport beach 7 Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style follow me on pinterest button Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style

space Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style

space Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style

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space Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style
space Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style

Video & Photos of Planes Departing St. Maarten

maho st maarten airport beach 4 Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style follow me on pinterest button Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style

maho st maarten airport beach 5 Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style follow me on pinterest button Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style

maho st maarten airport beach 1 Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style follow me on pinterest button Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style

Cut to around the one minute mark for best part of this video:

space Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style

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lightgrey Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style


space Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style
lightgrey Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style
space Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style
space Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style
space Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style

Related posts on Spot Cool Stuff:

The 5 Best Websites For Booking a Discount Caribbean Vacation
Swimming With Whale Sharks Off Isla Holbox, Mexico
Airwear: Airport Code Fashion
The 5 Best Caribbean Beach Bars
A Comparison of Sandals’ Resorts in Jamaica

Have you been to Maho beach? Would you go fence surfing if you had the chance? Blow us away with your comment, below:

 Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style
space Plane Spotting, Caribbean Style


Responses

  1. Tammy says:

    Just went here in December and it is fun to watch the planes land. It really is strange to watch the plane from far out to being practically on top of you. Landing gear is huge!

    [Reply to this comment]

  2. Minno says:

    The idea of making a small beach resort near an airport divided only through fence is absolutely a unique idea. Adventurous people will surely love to go there.
    Minno recently posted..Glass Pool Fences For Style And ClassMy Profile

    [Reply to this comment]

  3. Adventureswithben says:

    I was here a few years back and loved it. The beach is small and kind of crummy, but you’re not here for that the plane spotting is superb!
    Adventureswithben recently posted..Travel Tip: When Renting a Car Abroad – Buy the Extra InsuranceMy Profile

    [Reply to this comment]

  4. Elise Walsh says:

    I am just not totally sure this is enjoyable. Though the waters are beautiful, I may just avoid this patch of sand.
    Elise Walsh recently posted..Travel Memes – Volume 1My Profile

    [Reply to this comment]

  5. wandering educators says:


    Twitter:
    I think those people are crazy.
    wandering educators recently posted..Taqueria Goodness: Adobada (and a Mexican food Primer)My Profile

    [Reply to this comment]

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