You may have noticed that I have shared a few photographs from St. Martin* on social media lately. For my wife and me, it is one of our favorite destinations. We have been there several times and loved every minute of it, so it has been very hard to follow the recent news about the devastation hurricane Irma wrecked on this wonderful island.
One quintessential St. Martin experience was to watch the airplanes land at Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM). The airport is large for such a small island, so it serves as a busy transportation hub for several nearby islands, handling everything from small island-hopping turboprops to private jets to large long-haul airliners. The best spot to watch the airplanes was Maho Beach, located just a few yards from the end of the runway. The bar there even posted flight schedule on a surfboard. But a special treat was the arrival of Boeing 747, the Queen of the Skies, appropriately adorned with a crown on its tail fin by its owner, the Dutch airline KLM. On our first visit, we were able to watch it land twice and I took pictures from different vantage points. It was an unforgettable experience.
Earlier this year, KLM’s Boeing 747 landed and took off from the island for the last time, following the worldwide trend of withdrawing 747s from service. It was bittersweet news: a passing of the past icon to give way to a technically superior but characterless replacement. I realized we were witnessing history when we watched those flights land in 2013, when I took the pictures above.
Then came hurricane Irma, Maho Beach was washed away, and Princess Juliana Airport suffered substantial damage, greatly hampering relief efforts. But as soon as basic repairs to the airport were made, KLM’s blue and gray Queen of the Skies was back in St. Martin, bringing in much needed relief supplies and taking back evacuees, and it may visit the island a few more times in the coming days. Apart from their enormous importance in the relief effort, these last 747 flights are fitting symbols of closing the glamorous jet age chapter in St. Martin’s history as a new one, terrifying but hopeful, begins.
* The island is commonly referred to by several names. The geographical island is called Saint Martin, but as it is split between France and the Netherlands, it is called Saint-Martin and Sint Maarten in the respective language. Here, I use St. Martin to refer to the whole island.