This is Majuro International Airport. Yes, it is that close to the sea. I remember when we flew into it after 3 days of travelling to the Marshall Islands, looking out of the plane window and only being able to see water as we landed. It was like we were Jesus – which is kind of fitting as I have never lived anywhere with sooooooo many churches. But then again, I’m from England where no-one really cares about religion except for when it comes to chocolate, then Brunei (Muslim) and now Thailand (Buddhist). But still, there was a lot of churches – it seemed like every 20 metres or so – covering all manner of denominations from the ones that speak in tongues to the ones whose Saturdays are Sundays, through to the ones who don’t celebrate Christmas. A fairly concrete piece of advice I got when I arrived was to NOT go to church on Christmas Day, else I would be trapped there for at least 14 hours. Needless to say, I stayed at home.
I drove past the airport on that tiny strip of road every day to go to work from Ajeltake down to Delap. During one particularly high tide, the narrow stretch of land just after the airport (literally the width of the two-lane road) was completely engulfed by water. I had to drive through the Pacific Ocean to get home. To be honest, that wasn’t a sentence I ever thought I would say!
Because we passed the airport so much, we often were able to park up and watch the planes landing. We’d park up on that little stretch of grass close to the chain link fence – the only thing separating us from the runway. Which in hindsight is a pretty stupid idea. I think there was a sign telling you to keep off the grass, but who takes notice of a sign? I mean we would respect that fence but that was all, and it was pretty cool sitting on the back of the pick-up looking up at the night sky and having a plane come down metres from your head.
One night four of us were coming back in the truck and as we passed the airport, we noticed a freight airplane waiting to take off. I’m not sure which of us thought it would be a good idea to watch it take off, but we pulled in behind that chain-link fence, got out of the truck and lined ourselves up against the bonnet to watch.
The first thing I remember is the pilot. We were so close to the plane taxiing down the runway we saw him slowly shake his head at us. Being the absolute dickheads we are, we smiled and waved back at him.
The second thing I remember is the plane turning around so its butt was facing us ready to put the power down and zoom off before lifting off. It was at this point I started to get hot. We were about 50 metres max from the engines. Small stones were kicking up and hitting me in the face. I was being pushed back over the bonnet.
Wanting to save my eyeballs from dust and stones I turned around, so my back was facing the plane. I was immediately pinned to the bonnet of the truck. And that’s when I noticed the other three had pissed off and left me! The absolute knobs! I was there on my own being forcibly pinned to the bonnet of my truck by an unseen entity as if I was in the Evil Dead or something. The air from the jet engines was getting stronger and hotter. I started swearing. I knew I had to move and move quickly. Not for the first, nor, funnily enough, the last time in my life I muttered “This is not how I die”.
I shuffled myself along the bonnet then literally got swept off my feet. We’ve all seen those videos of some poor soul being lifted off their feet and dragged down the street in high winds. And how we laugh. How I laughed.
In my head I thought I would be able to shimmy along the side of the truck and hide behind it. Nope. As soon as the truck was no longer in front of me, I was catapulted. Flying along like Phoebe from Friends running at twice full speed I passed the three of them crouched behind the truck, watching me and laughing. My arms were doing windmills, my arse wanted to be in front so my back was super arched and God only knows what was going on with my legs – something like a cross between the Roadrunner and a drunk toddler. Then I landed face first 20 metres behind the truck. Head in the dirt, scruffy and shoeless. My Birkenstocks had been flung from my feet and disappeared into the darkness.
We clearly hadn’t thought this through properly. Jason, my partner said “yeah we moved round the back cos I remembered that Top Gear Episode where the truck flipped over when it was behind the jet engine” – erm what the what now?? Imagine trying to explain that to your boss the following day…
‘I’m really sorry sir, we lost the truck – its stuck in a tree next to the airport’.