Crossing the Isthmus
by Lesley Hendricks
On Sunday August 15, 1999 the 757 Delta Flight 498 took off from Tocumen Airport at 7:20 a.m. headed for Atlanta, Georgia. The pilot took a slow turn to the right after leaving the runway and did not gain further altitude. He announced that it was the 85th Anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal. He told those of us on the left hand side to look down. What a pleasant surprise. He took us the length of the Panama Canal!
We started by seeing the ships at the anchorage off Taboga Island, past the causeway and the boats at the Balboa Yacht Club ruins. We eased past the Bridge of the Americas and Ancon Hill with the Administration Building and Sosa Hill. At Miraflores Locks a ship had just entered Miraflores Lake after being elevated from sea level. At Pedro Miguel there was a ship in the locks chamber. We passed by Contractors' Hill and Gold Hill which looks formidible from any level. There were tug boats busily headed toward Pedro Miguel and a couple of other smaller boats going thru the Cut. We went over the Chagres River at Gamboa and the cranes Titan and Hercules were sitting at the Dredging Division. The red roof of the new hotel was visible. We then crossed Gatun Lake and all the islands -- the ends of the lake make little tendrils of water (Madden Lake was on the other side of the plane). Barro Colorado Island looks huge from the air. We then crossed over the town of Gatun and Gatun Locks. The Cristobal Yacht Club and Piers appeared next. As we crossed the breakwater at Cristobal, Ft. San Lorenzo and the mouth of the Chagres River were visible as the pilot then took a swooping left and started gaining altitude over the Caribbean Sea.
This was such a treat. I never recall an airplane doing this before. We crossed the Isthmus of Panama in less than 10 minutes. I couldn't help but think of former times when it took many days of cayuco paddling and an arduous hike to cross this narrow strip of land.
August 17, 1999