April 1, 2002 and we were on a flight from Bangkok to Vientiane. Walking across the tarmac towards the plane I heard some young Thai passengers giggling at the sight of the aircraft we were heading for - an old Russian twin-propeller.On board I couldn’t squeeze my hand luggage into the overhead compartment. The flight attendant came along, grabbed my bag and just dumped it on an empty seat near the cockpit.
Once airborne, I heard mosquitoes buzzing near my ear. I had forgotten to take my anti-malaria pills. It was too late then as they should have been taken a few days earlier.
The long wait at Bangkok Airport had left me tired and sleepy and despite the vibrations and noise from the engines I dozed off. I was suddenly awakened by an announcement, “We can’t find the airport. We can’t find the airport.”I nudged Iskander, my travelling companion, to check if what I had heard was true. “Yes,” he confirmed. My first thought was this was an April Fools’ Day joke. But the plane circled and circled and eventually flew off elsewhere. On landing, the pilot switched on some Lao music very loudly and without any explanation left the aircraft along with the flight attendant, locking the passengers inside. The few European passengers got into an animated discussion about what was happening, while most of the Asian passengers stayed calm, seemingly used to such an occurrence.
After about 40 minutes, the pilot and flight attendant returned and walked straight into the cockpit without looking at, or saying anything, to the passengers. Minutes later, there was an announcement that we were taking off for Wattay Airport, Vientiane.On landing I found out that due to heavy rain and poor visibility in Vientiane the pilot couldn’t see the runway and had returned to Thailand waiting for the weather to clear up.
Obviously, the difference between “can’t find the airport” and “can’t see the runway” was lost on the pilot.
By: Devinder Raj
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