A close call on St. Barth’s

I’ve stood in that exact same spot.

The warning signs are not subtle at the Gustaf III airport in St. Barth's.
The warning signs are not subtle at the Gustaf III airport in St. Barth’s.

That’s the first thought I had when news of the incident at St. Barth’s airport made the rounds a couple weeks ago. Actually, not only had I stood right there but I even thought it was a questionable position to be in so I moved lower and inside the fence to behind the warning sign, a move which attracted the attention of the airport authorities and earned us a stern talking to in both French and English.

Make sure to sue the VR controls and pan around in the video above ~ 6 seconds in. You can see how close it gets.

I stood right there and watched the planes land just a few feet above my head.

A more reasonable approach a St. Barth's, though still incredibly low to the road and fence line.
A more reasonable approach a St. Barth’s, though still incredibly low to the road and fence line.

Turns out that this particular incident was the first time the pilot was making the approach following his classroom training for landing at the Gustaf III Airport. It is known to be one of the most challenging approaches in the world with two large hills on either side of the approach and swirling winds in between. His instructor indicated over the radio that he was too low at the final moment, passing over the traffic circle and entering the airport grounds. And still there were no injuries nor major impact from the event, save for massive media hype suggesting that a guy standing in front of a warning sign was almost decapitated.

But I’ve stood right there and watched the planes coming in. It is an amazing experience but one which comes with certain responsibilities, much like everything in life. Knowing your surroundings and paying attention to what is happening is far more important than getting the “perfect” shot.

Expect more and potentially larger warning signs at the traffic circle in coming weeks. Not that the danger is at all subtle even without them.

Top image screen grab from YouTube video included above.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. I saw this posting on another site and the comments were so off based talking about how that was a typical approach at that airport and if he was any higher he would not make the landing. As a pilot myself, I knew for a fact that approach was way lower than it should have been. You can get a Cessna to lose altitude rapidly if you want to and do not need very much runway to land. The pilot, or actually his/her instructor since they would be PIC, will be lucky to escape some punishment for the incident. The instructor should have told to correct or called for the controls completely when he saw this approach was that low. He almost takes out a guy on a motorbike too. Just a dangerous situation and poor judgement.

    1. It is low. It is not exceptionally or impossibly low. Maybe a difference of just a few meters in the end. That approach requires navigating a very tight spacing. And on his first real world attempt it wasn’t quite perfect.

      I expect additional simulator practice and training but no long-term issues for the pilot.

      Also, my understanding is that the instructor was on the radio, not in the aircraft with the pilot, FWIW.

      1. It actually is an unacceptable approach because as PIC he should have aborted seeing how low he was and also seeing the idiot that was just below his aircraft. If you look at other videos of the approach at that FBO, you will notice that much larger aircraft approach higher, land well after the threshold and still have plenty of time to stop. In this the cessna, he should have had a higher approach and even landing mid-runway would still have provided him enough runway to stop. A major issue could take place given that the man in the video says the plane stuck him. In the end, that is the PIC’s fault, not the moron standing their while the plane smacks him. Also, if you look back in the video, if it was the van behind the motorbike that happened to be in the motorbikes position, there is a good chance he would have struck it and the situation could have been far worse. A measure of a good pilot is knowing when to call a go around and shoot the approach again, not sticking with a bad approach and hoping for the best. And FWIW I bet that instructor was sh*tting himself watching that approach.

        1. I’m curious what “much larger” aircraft you think there are landing at SBH. Because there really aren’t many.

          The approach should have been higher. I don’t think anyone is disputing that. But also far from a total debacle.

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