I said, Im on the beach

I said, Im on the beach

Josef Hoflehner’s ‘Jet Airliner’ pictures were taken at Maho Beach, on the Dutch/French Caribbean island of St Maarten/St Martin, from 2009 to 2011. The beach is adjacent to the short runway of the Princess Juliana International Airport, and passenger jets fly as low as four metres above the heads of sunbathers. In 2011, the runway was lengthened, but to comply with civil aviation rules a ‘safety zone’ may be required on the Maho side, which would mean the end for one of the most spectacular beaches in the world. Here Hoflehner describes the scene when he took this photograph.

“The woman is on the phone, and was so busy talking she didn’t notice the 300-ton, wide-body airliner overhead. Once it had passed, though, she seemed very surprised. Someone pointed out that the people behind her seem to be worshipping the plane, their arms outstretched – supplicants in front of the great man-made god, like a cargo cult. But it’s not something I noticed at the time. When a plane flies overhead you don’t hear anything else. It’s a normal beach, but once a plane approaches the entire situation changes. People run around, trying to get to a good spot for their own snapshot. Some freak out and scream; others stay calm and don’t seem to care much. The noise is absolutely deafening. I spent several months there, but never got used to it. Sometimes the ground begins to quake, triggering the alarms of nearby cars. Once the plane passes, the exhaust can cause small sandstorms on the beach. And there’s the smell of burnt rubber and kerosene, which some girls seem to love.”

Josef Hoflehner’s ‘Jet Airliner’ book is published in September (www.josefhoflehner.com, €59)

Published in Conde Nast Traveller September 2012.

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