Blown Away (literally) by Landing Airplanes in Maho Beach, Sint Maarten of the Caribbean

Ever heard of an island country called “Sint Maarten”? Sint Maarten is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the Caribbean. It shares an island with a French overseas territory, Saint-Martin. Confusingly similar names, and the locals just refer to the 2 countries as the Dutch side and the French side. Just like other islands of the Caribbean, Sint Maarten has many beautiful white sand beaches with clear blue water. However Maho Bay Beach in Sint Maarten offers something that other beaches don’t have: the chance to stand right at the end of a major runway while airplanes blast by just overhead.

Wait, what did you say?

Maho Bay Beach is located at the end of the runway of Princess Juliana International Airport of Sint Maarten. Imagine, this beautiful beach is only separated by a small road a few meters wide and a fence, from the end of the runway, where airplanes are landing. Due to the shortness of the runway path, the airplanes landing here try to touch the ground as close as possible to the starting point, right up against the beach. If you want to enjoy a peaceful atmosphere of a beach, do not come here. But if you want to feel the strange sensation of basking just several meters below an airplane, this is the place for you!

Arriving at the beach, Ryan and I immediately ran excitedly toward the sandy area that is located in front to the runway. We saw everybody else were lying down rather at a distance, not directly under the flight path. How odd, we think, isn’t directly under the airplane a much more exciting place to be?! Well, whatever, that was great for us, it meant it wasn’t too crowded.

We took out our green sarong, a gift from my best friend back home, and laid down, relaxing under the sun, while waiting for an approaching airplane. We wondered how long we’d need to wait, but after just a few minutes, Ryan’s eagle eyes spotted an approaching airplane from above the sea, flying low straight toward us. Wow! We sat up straight and stared at it.

Maho Beach, Sint Maarten, Caribbean: An approaching airplane

The plane was flying pretty low, and as it came closer, I started to feel alarmed. What if a mistake happened and the plane landed before it should? What if it landed too soon, on the beach, and crushed us before we could escape? After all, we are just a few meters from away from the beginning of the runway! An airplane is moving with a very high velocity, and there will not be enough time for us to judge it’s whether or not it’s going to be a safe landing.

Maho Beach, Sint Maarten, Caribbean: Airplane flying low above your head

The airplane’s roar grew louder and louder as it approached us. The wind caused by it blew the sand around us. We laid down, stared to the sky straight up, and the airplane flew by our head in a split second. Zzing!! Wow, it was flying so low above us, just a few meters! Very soon after, it landed behind the fence, just a few meters behind us. Phew, wow! So close, but it didn’t bowl us over. What a cool and weird sensation!

Maho Beach, Sint Maarten, Caribbean: People watching airplane landing

After watching several other landings, our confidence that the airplane wouldn’t crush at us grew. It seemed quite safe. Afterall, this beach is famous for the landings. Little that we knew that time, that the more terrifying moment is not the landing, but the take off!

Maho Beach, Sint Maarten, Caribbean: Airplane ready for departure causing sand blast

This end of runway that serves as the starting point of the landing, also serves as the starting point of the acceleration for take off. An airplane will taxi to this point and orient itself to the runway, and will sit there for a moment before start accelerating. Have you ever stood behind an airplane at this moment? It’s quite crazy, let me tell you!

As the departing airplane approaching this end, Ryan and I were cheering excitedly. The roar was thundering in the air around us, so loud that I couldn’t hear whatever Ryan tried to say at me. The airplane was slowly turning around, facing the runway, showing its rear end to us. Something that in hindsight seems like an obvious problem, but at the time we didn’t realise: the wind caused by the jet engine is really strong, and we were right at only several meters away behind it! Ryan snapped several pictures of me and was ready to take the video. We saw some little kids tried to clutching on the airport fence and they screamed to their lung, but their voice was masked by the engine roar. The wind was strong, but we managed to stand still. Not for long! The jet engine then worked harder than before. It roared louder, and the wind now got even more brutal, the beach’s water line was retracted. and our bodies were pushed away! Good thing.

And here was the worst part, remember that we were on sandy beach? Those beautiful white sand was now blasted so strongly too by the wind, and the mass of them hit our body full force: we got sand-blasted! It felt like being bombarded by thousands of tiny sharp bullets! We tried to run away from this to the side, but we got pushed back to the water. We must looked like a couple of crabs running sideways, trying to seek a shelter. But nowhere to hide! The further away we run from the airplane, the more mass of sand blasting us. It hurt so much, I believed that our skin was sand-blasted to perfect smoothness! Still screaming, a mix between excitement, pain, and a little worry that this might get worse, the airplane finally started accelerating away. Phew, we made it!

Now we understand why other people choose to lay down not directly in the end of the runway. They don’t want to get sand-blasted, either because it’s not comfortable at all, or because they already have a very smooth skin.

It could be worse than just that, here’s a quote from Wikipedia:

“People standing on the beach may also be blown into the water because of the jet blast from aircraft taking off from runway 10.”

On this, Ryan commented “would have been bad for our new camera.”

I think getting blasted through the air is scarier than losing a camera!

Maho Beach, Sint Maarten, Caribbean: Danger warning sign

Now we also understand the fence warning that we saw earlier. The warning says “DANGER: Jet blast of departing and arriving aircraft can cause severe physical harm resulting in extreme bodily harm and/or death.” Just imagine what would happen if there are rocks or other sharp/heavy objects thrown to your head, we can see that it might kill you – scary. The runway is wisely fenced off, and you should not go near it. Clutching on it like the kids mentioned above is totally not recommended. Did we make a safe distance just by standing several meters behind it, on the beach? The beach area is opened to public, so we believed so. Or at least we hoped so!

Ah, what a fun, exciting, exhilarating, but weird beach experience!

Any similar stories to share? Close encounters with fast moving objects? Anyone get blasted through the air and live to tell about it?

*Update: The pilots perspective*

A funny reply from JetAviator7@ All Things Aviation:

“Cool shot of the Lear 35 in the top photo. I have landed here before, and it is just as interesting for us pilots to see the nuts on the beach as it is for them to watch us land.

We have to make sure we don’t look too closely (especially the pretty girls) lest we make a poor landing.”

Cool shot of the Lear 35 in the top photo. I have landed here before, and it is just as interesting for us pilots to see the nuts on the beach as it is for them to watch us land.

We have to make sure we don’t look too closely (especially the pretty girls) lest we make a poor landing.

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33 Responses to “Blown Away (literally) by Landing Airplanes in Maho Beach, Sint Maarten of the Caribbean”

  1. jill- Jack and Jill Travel The World
    15 March 2011 at 9:24 pm #

    Crazy photos! So I guess it’s like a more extreme version of getting a body scrub, eh? No need to go to the spa anymore :)

    • Dina
      16 March 2011 at 12:40 am #

      Hahaha, super scrub indeed! Too bad it didn’t launch us to the water as well, that will be the ultimate spa package – end up in whirlpool. (Eh, spa package doesn’t usually involve whirlpool…)

  2. Sabina
    16 March 2011 at 1:52 am #

    I love this story! Dina, it looks like that plane is sitting right on top of your head. In New England where I’m from little planes fly over the beaches, but never come anywhere nearly as low as what you’re describing. That must have been an awesome feeling. Too bad no one took a video of you escaping like sandblasted crabs ;)

    • Dina
      17 March 2011 at 9:02 pm #

      It felt like that too! New England has that too, eh! Must be exciting for you when you were small. Haha, yeah, too bad the video was mostly taken from inside Ryan’s T-shirt – just blurry fabric waving around.

  3. Robin
    16 March 2011 at 8:51 am #

    Reminds me of Isla Contadora in Panama where the runway is right next to the beach. This is really close however :)
    Robin´s last post…100 Top Travel Blogs based on Traffic

    • Dina
      17 March 2011 at 9:02 pm #

      Oh, Panama has that too? We are planning to go to Panama, it will be fun to check that out!

  4. Maria Pavel
    16 March 2011 at 10:16 am #

    I’m pretty sure i would be too afraid to just stand there while the plane passes above my head.
    But it sure looks fun…
    Maria Pavel´s last post…Certified Nursing Assistant Practice Test

    • Dina
      17 March 2011 at 9:10 pm #

      Seeing the airplanes from the side is still amazing, you might enjoy that!

  5. Vera Marie Badertscher
    17 March 2011 at 4:04 pm #

    No extra charge for the exfoliation treatment, huh? Love the exciting pictures.

    • Dina
      17 March 2011 at 9:10 pm #

      Haha, it’s all free! (Thanks!)

  6. Nancie
    17 March 2011 at 8:30 pm #

    Laughing here. You two are crazy!!

    • Dina
      17 March 2011 at 9:11 pm #

      Yeah, we totally didn’t see it coming, the sandblast.

  7. Cam
    18 March 2011 at 12:32 pm #

    Wow – that’s so crazy!
    I’ve seen photos of this airport before and it always makes me scratch my head in amazement. Surely there has to be a safer spot for a beach, no?
    Cam´s last post…Tips for Travelling with a Dog

    • Dina
      22 March 2011 at 3:00 pm #

      Those pictures are amazing, aren’t they! I’m so glad we had the chance to be there! Yeah, the part of the beach where we got sandblasted didn’t have anybody (but us) setting up their towel (or sarong in our case). They were about 10 m away at least from that spot. Looked like they are quite comfortable there.

  8. Erica
    18 March 2011 at 4:34 pm #

    I’ve seen videos of people being pushed into the water as a plane is taking off. You guys are definitely ballsy to try this with a camera!

    • Dina
      22 March 2011 at 3:03 pm #

      If you remember where you saw it, send the link to us! I only heard/read about it, but no pic/video. We didn’t see it coming. My research about the place prior to the trip was only about the landing, not the departing with all the wind and sand blast. Oops! We were even trying to video tape the departure, but ended up just taking video of Ryan’s inside shirt. I think if we insisted, we will have our lens embedded by sand!

  9. JetAviator7@ All Things Aviation
    21 March 2011 at 4:46 pm #

    Cool shot of the Lear 35 in the top photo. I have landed here before, and it is just as interesting for us pilots to see the nuts on the beach as it is for them to watch us land.

    We have to make sure we don’t look too closely (especially the pretty girls) lest we make a poor landing.
    JetAviator7@ All Things Aviation´s last post…Coincidence or Fate the Day the Music Died

    • Dina
      24 March 2011 at 2:55 pm #

      Haha! It’s really cool to get the pilots perspective, I’m going to update the article with your comment! (hope you don’t mind)

      So, if one day I ever fly to Sint Maarten and we have a bumpy landing, I know why!

      I read that the runway is considerably short so the pilots have to aim to land as close as possible to the beach, is that correct?

      (For me, an ordinary people, it’s very cool that you can identify the airplane in the top photo!)

  10. Jennifer Barry
    21 March 2011 at 7:42 pm #

    Hi Dina, St. Maarten/Martin is one of my parents favorite places to visit. They never mentioned this crazy beach though! They probably went to a quieter one.

    How are you liking the food? I heard it’s very good. :)
    Jennifer Barry´s last post…A Brand New Role- An interview with Shannon O&8217Donnell

    • Dina
      22 March 2011 at 3:04 pm #

      Hi Jen, ask them is it Orient Beach they are usually going. It has nude beach there, tee hee! Unfortunately we didn’t try the food there. I was sick and just concentrating in enjoying the beaches (and airplanes).

  11. Matt | ExpertVagabond
    22 March 2011 at 11:25 am #

    That looks crazy fun!
    Matt | ExpertVagabond´s last post…VIDEO- Volcano Boarding Crash

    • Dina
      22 March 2011 at 3:05 pm #

      Definitely you should go to this beach if you reach Sint Maarten!

  12. Sophie
    24 March 2011 at 11:03 am #

    I’ve heard about this crazy airport. Fun post and cool photos.

    • Dina
      25 March 2011 at 1:44 pm #

      Thanks! It was such a bizarre experience for us :)

  13. Suzy
    25 March 2011 at 10:13 am #

    I have seen pictures of this beach before with the plane dangerously close and flying low to sunbathers. I know I would be terrified, but it sounds like a unique experience to have.
    Suzy´s last post…Olfactory Gold in Ireland

    • Dina
      25 March 2011 at 1:48 pm #

      Prior to go there, we only saw the happy landing pictures. Only later people told us about the more extreme cases (like video of somebody get thrown to the water). We kinda glad that we was not aware the extreme cases (or otherwise we would have been more timid), and we are glad it was not a 747 that was taking off (might be thrown to the air and land to the water).

  14. Jeremy
    25 March 2011 at 11:05 am #

    I’ve been to this beach before. It is a lot of fun! I didn’t get in the path of the planes landing for fear of losing something, but it was fun to watch. Esp when the 747s take off and people lose all of their belongings and have to chase it into the water to catch. I’d love to scuba for treasures off the beach there. I’m sure I’d make a killing with what I’d find.
    Jeremy´s last post…Photo Friday Series 7- Resting

    • Dina
      25 March 2011 at 1:53 pm #

      Hahaha, yeah, I was afraid it was going to blown away our bag and sarong. They certainly got shaken by the wind really hard. Great idea about the treasure hunt scuba :D

  15. Travelogged
    26 March 2011 at 11:46 pm #

    Um, remind me not to fly to St. Maarten?! I don’t like it when my plane has to dodge beachgoers :)
    Travelogged´s last post…Social Media Success for New Zealand- Plus a Rotorua Slideshow

  16. RC guru
    30 April 2011 at 7:58 pm #

    dodge beachgoers lol here in los angeles there are some nice places to stand as well for great shots over at LAX, love the freedom of flight :)

  17. Federico
    22 July 2011 at 1:40 am #

    Crazy, but well known! I have to do this somedays, and watch a jumbo jet land! Did u get the chance?

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