Airplanes fly over the Himalayas

Flight over the Himalayas: summit storm by jet jet

A flight over the colossi of the Himalayas and the Karakoram - that's it, thinks a policeman at the German embassy in Pakistan and chartered an aged Boeing 737. The pilot promises the diplomatic tour group the most exciting flight of their life. You can see what view the passengers had in our photo show.

"Why not?"

You meet at a party, you eat, drink, talk about this and that, and at some point Mirza Baig, manager at Pakistan International Airlines, PIA for short, talks about the flights over the Himalayas that you had up until five years ago Islamabad from the capital. But after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the tourists stayed away, and at some point they had to realize that there were no more customers for the ninety-minute flight. That would be something! Thinks Herbert N., a policeman at the German embassy in Islamabad. He asks Baig whether it is possible to charter a Boeing 737. "Why not?" He replies.

About Nanga Parbat and K2

Islamabad is an artificial city, created in the mid-sixties as the capital of Pakistan, numbered streets, a government and administrative city, green, well-kept, pretty, permanently boring. The cultural offer is minimal: there is no cinema, only a few concerts, the leisure offer consists mainly of private parties. So why not organize a flight privately? N., a gripping man in his fifties, gray hair, always a friendly word on his lips, thinks you could do that: fly over the Indus Valley in a jet, over Kashmir, past the 8,125-meter-high Nanga Parbat , the "fate of the Germans", to the second highest mountain in the world, the K2.

Only a third of the places are occupied

The obsession turns into a plan: the PIA managers provide a Boeing 737, N. signs a charter contract for the first time in his life and sends e-mails to embassies, foundations and international organizations. A total of 42 passengers can fly with you, even if the machine has three times as many seats: Only seats at the very front and very back on both sides are allocated, in pairs, but not above the wings - you should have an unobstructed view.

Military veto

Participation costs around 200 euros per person, the charter price divided by the number of passengers. N. collected the money and put it in 42 envelopes so that nothing gets mixed up. But then the Pakistani Air Force thwarted the bill: They did not grant the flight a permit; after all, there were militarily relevant facilities on the route. And anyway, what's the point, a flight that starts in Islamabad and lands in Islamabad? The people from the airline say that the young officers are new to their posts, they don't know that there have been sightseeing flights. The tour will be canceled the evening before departure. The airline's management is terribly embarrassed, they talk to the air force command, nothing goes in Pakistan without the consent of the armed forces. A week later, the old Boeing 737, with a few rivets missing from its wings, was allowed to take off.

"Not sleep! "

Shahid Hussain, long gray hair, gray mustache, gold-framed sunglasses, is as cool as a pilot can only be cool. He flew in from the southern Pakistani metropolis of Karachi to fly the mountain tour. "I've done this before," he says. Today he flies larger machines, scheduled flights. He calls it "boring" compared to what is about to happen now. Shortly before take-off, he promises passengers the "most beautiful flight of your life", an "experience that you will never forget". The passengers, Germans, Dutch, Swiss, Swedes and Australians stare out of the window as if spellbound, although the plane is still at the dreary Benazir Bhutto International Airport. When the plane rolls to the runway, an American diplomat has already fallen asleep out of sheer flight habit. His wife pokes him in the ribs with her elbow. "Don't sleep!" She orders.

Flying low over mountains steeped in history

It's a cloudy day, "not ideal for this flight," says pilot Hussain. "But we'll see enough." As soon as the plane has taken off and left Islamabad behind, the mountains begin: the Margalla Hills, the foothills of the Himalayas. Hussain flies the jet deeper than normal passenger traffic over the mountains, after a few minutes over the deep blue mountain lake Saiful Muluk, which takes at least eight hours by car from Islamabad over gravel roads at dizzying heights.

The tragic Nanga Parbat

Then: the Nanga Parbat, the summit higher than the plane. It takes days to climb up, if you can - many expeditions have failed and tragedies have taken place here. By plane you can get from Islamabad to close to the summit in half an hour. It is a bit "a fraud in nature," says an American diplomat. Then he takes his camera out of his pocket and takes pictures of the colossus.

Ice-cold drink over the glacier

The passengers say "Ah!" and "Oh!", sometimes they all crowd on the right side, then again on the left. It's like taking a school trip in a coach. A few have brought alcohol with them, the crew is handing out glasses with ice cubes. Alcohol is banned in Pakistan, even on PIA flights, but this is a charter flight, more or less private. In normal life in the country people drink as much as they can, no army officer without a private bar.

Looking over the pilot's shoulder

The next attraction is the Baltoro Glacier, one of the largest in the world, a long white-brown aisle at an altitude of over 4000 meters. The US diplomats are even more fascinated by something completely different than by the mountains and ice masses down there: the open cockpit. "Something like this has been absolutely forbidden in Germany since 9/11," says a young woman and can't believe that she is allowed to look over the pilot's shoulder.

The secret service is also on board

Shahid Hussain has allowed the door to stay open. Every passenger is allowed to go forward, enjoy the breathtaking view, and take photos. "Wonderful!" He says. Then he takes photos himself and takes pictures of his co-pilot in front of the Nanga-Parbat. In the back of the machine sit two Pakistani men, employees of the secret service, you have to keep an eye on what the foreigners are up to.

The Chinese airspace is taboo

The destination of the sightseeing flight is the K2 in the Karakoram Mountains. Unfortunately, it's exactly on the border between Pakistan and China. A circumnavigation is therefore not possible, you shouldn't just fly into Chinese airspace. Shahid Hussain therefore says on the radio that the K2 can be seen on the left. As soon as the passengers crowd at the windows, he turns away - under no circumstances should the plane leave Pakistan.

Sightseeing flight with the risk of repetition

The flight takes exactly two hours, and the plane was in the air about half an hour longer than planned. Pilot Hussain is thrilled to have finally flown in the "most beautiful part of the world" again. He asks N. if he is not ready to organize such a flight again. He's spent several evenings accepting, withdrawing and accepting people, collecting money and negotiating with the airline. He is happy about the success, but also happy that it is over now. "Let's see," he says. "Let's see."

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