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All Before 1PM

From Beef Island to St Maarten and Dominica and Back Again. All Before 1PM.
Story and photos by Traci O'Dea

I enjoy flying, but I probably spend most flights distractedly anticipating what I’ll be doing when I get off the plane—whether it’s going on vacation, visiting family or returning home. But on a random Wednesday in January, I got on a plane just to fly. It’s a completely different experience, and I was able to solely focus on the journey.

My captain, Ken Smith, and first officer, Martin Halstead, welcomed me aboard the 19-seat Jetstream 32, assigned me to the jump seat directly behind them, and handed me a headset so I could listen in to them and air traffic control. I was listed on the books as an ACW, Additional Crew Member, and not one of the passengers—pretty cool. I spent most of the trip looking ahead of me through the windshield of the plane and trying to sort out what the chatter over the airwaves meant.
We took off from Beef Island with seven passengers headed for St Maarten. I watched as Martin set the altitude and heard a loud alarm over the headphones whenever that altitude was reached. We climbed to 11,000 feet, and even though we were speeding through the air above the clouds at velocities over 300 mph, I felt like we were cruising along a newly paved highway at about 65. As we travelled through the air and descended into St Maarten, the early morning discourse over the headphones was minimal and served as a nice introduction to what was going on. Drake 103, our plane, requested clearance to land, and it was granted. Ken pointed out the beach below, now deserted, where tourists would later be lined up to take photos of the incoming and outgoing planes, and as we flew over, I understood why; I thought we were going to skim the sandy beach before we hit the runway. After a smooth landing, we hung out on the tarmac for a few minutes while the passengers deplaned and new passengers arrived.
Before we took off from St Maarten to Dominica, Ken asked me through the headphones, “Traci, do you like rollercoasters?” Then he announced over the loudspeaker that we would have some turbulence for about ten to fifteen seconds after we first ascended. I started counting once the wheels left the ground, and I kept waiting for some major turbulence, but only felt a few dips and shudders typical of any takeoff. After sixteen seconds, we had completely balanced out. Then after a few more minutes, we passed through the little bit of weather that had been sprinkling St Maarten with rain (and providing a thick rainbow beyond the airport) and flew toward blue skies. Upon seeing a cottony cloud in front of us, Ken made an abracadabra motion with his hands, and within seconds, we were inside of it.
“That’s what flying’s all about,” he said. “Those little things.”
As we approached Dominica, the moisture from the air conditioning formed a swirling fog around my passenger side window that framed the view of the lush, undeveloped, cloud-strewn mountains and added to the mystique of the island that Ken compared to Jurassic Park. Before we had left St Maarten, Ken explained how we would fly into Dominica, but I wasn’t prepared for the cinema-like event. First, Ken passed over the landing strip and airport below us and headed towards the mountain range ahead then we turned around, almost at the top of the ridge, and soared down the valley, with the verdant hillsides surrounding us, and landed facing the sea. I think I forgot to breathe, not from fright, but because I just wanted to soak in the experience.

As we headed back to St Maarten, the headphones were much busier with chatter in English and French—the latter because of our proximity to Guadeloupe and Martinique. This time, as we drew nearer to the St Maarten airstrip, I observed that a small crowd had gathered on the beach by the airport. They snapped photos as we passed over, and we definitely ruffled some hair before we landed in St Maarten again.
For the last leg of the journey, back to Beef Island, Ken and Martin had no passengers, so  I felt like I was travelling on my own private plane. Not bad for a Wednesday morning. Next time I fly to St Maarten and Dominica with BVI Airways, though, I plan on seeing more of the islands than just the tarmac.

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