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Jumbo thrill-seekers of the Caribbean

Low flying jumbo jets are the main attraction at Maho Beach, where hundreds of tourists put themselves in the path of landing and departing airplanes.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

 Hundreds of thrill-seeking tourists flock to Maho Beach on this Caribbean island every day – not to sunbathe or swim but to put themselves deliberately (and insanely, some say) in the path of low-flying jumbo jets. For them, spending the day reaching for the underbelly of a Boeing 757 or other such aircraft as it streaks overhead to land at the island’s international airport is their idea of fun in the sun.

Veteran plane-spotters, in fact, say there is no place quite like it: a beautiful, white sandy beach at the end of a runway where the local hangout – the Sunset Beach Bar and Grill – posts the arrival and departure times of aircraft on a surfboard and broadcasts radio transmissions between pilots and the control tower.

For the pilots of these monster jets, flying low into the airport is necessary to ensure  touching down as close to the end of a short runway (7,546 feet) as possible. That may seem dangerous. But no major incident has been reported in the long history of what has been called the world’s scariest airport.

Planes that land, however, must also take off. And that’s where the danger comes in.

Holding on to the fence for dear life as the powerful jet engines rev up for takeoff, tourists routinely ignore a nearby sign warning that “jet blast” from departing aircraft “can cause severe physical harm resulting in extreme bodily harm and/or death.”

But for these thrill-seekers, it’s just another day at the beach.

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