Fuel secured in the Airvan (RvW)

Maintaining an airstrip is a community affair. A rural airstrip brings the community an opportunity to catch up with the world beyond the mountains and the rivers. A rural airstrip brings education and health services in, and flies the next generation out to go to University, to find jobs and to engage in other ways. Yes, maintaining an airstrip is a community affair, it’s hard work and challenging. It also needs the continuous support provided by the partnership between RAA and MAF. And it pays off, especially for those in need of medical evacuation flights.

Read how Remi’s day flying an RAA charter continued:

Malamaunda:  A Donor-funded Detour 

Upon landing at Malamaunda, I was swarmed by lots of people wanting to get on the plane, mostly students desperately wanting to get to Kompiam to continue their school. Unfortunately, I couldn‘t take them as we had no extra seats as we had only planned on taking fuel and the lawnmower and we had to get the weight of the plane down to the bare minimum to carry all the fuel and lawnmower.

The woman and her husband didn‘t have much money so fortunately, we could charge this medevac to the MAF medevac fund that many of our generous supporters all across the world donate to. Thank you for that so I could bring this woman to the hospital, about a 30-minute flight from Malamaunda.

 

The woman on her way to receive help (RvW)

 

After dropping them off in Kompiam at the Mission hospital, I raced back to Mt Hagen to fill up on fuel and on supplies to make the flight more viable and head back to Maramuni, where I had left the RAA worker. By the time I got back there, the villagers were very happy as they got a planeload of supplies and their new lawnmower had been fixed so it worked. With the lawnmower now working, we were ready to fly to the last airstrip: Eleme.

Malaumanda community receiving store goods (RvW)

Eleme: A Lying Windsock

Eleme is a fairly short airstrip at about sea level so we would have a take-off penalty of 300 kilograms. We would be just under that weight when we got there. Everything looked good from the air and the windsock was calm. But on landing, there was a strong headwind which would make a takeoff on this one-way strip impossible. Another headache! 

 

Eleme airstrip towards the one end with windsock (RvW)

Eleme airstrip towards the other end (RvW)

First I went to find out why the windsock didn‘t show wind. It had blown against the pole it was mounted on so hung straight down instead of showing a 10-knot wind. So now we had to get creative to see how we‘d be able to depart if it would even be possible. Otherwise, we‘d probably have to overnight and take off early in the morning when the winds are calm. The airstrip was flat and had minor obstacles on both ends. So after having a good look at the obstacles on the side that we‘d normally not take off towards, it became clear that with such a strong wind I could take off in the opposite direction. 

After checking with the villagers, they said that other operators would take off in the opposite direction in such a wind. So while the RAA worker did his duties on the ground, I unloaded everything and did a test take off with lots and lots of safety margin, to find out if I could take off in the opposite direction. Not ideal but it would be the only way to get out. I picked a very conservative abort point down the runway on take-off so if I didn‘t reach a certain speed by then, I could still safely abort. We were airborne well before this safe abort point so I returned for landing and loaded up the RAA worker.

RAA worker in discussion with his RAA agent (RvW)

We could safely take off and return to Mt Hagen without any further issues.

 

Behind the Scenes: At MAF Headquarters

Sharlene Coker (LAC)

All in all, it was a long day that was especially emotionally draining, due to all the surprises and changes. But it was a very rewarding day too, and I want to thank our amazing Operations Assistant, Sharlene Coker.

At MAF, we have many staff that work “behind the scenes,“ and have to deal with constant changes to the schedule due to maintenance issues, medevacs, pilots unable to fly, etc.
Sharlene made it all work today so that this precious woman could get to a hospital, and we could complete the other flights we were supposed to do.

 

Behind the Scenes: On the Wermeskerken’s Homefront

Because there was a woman facing birth difficulties, Remi got the call from our flight ops team to do that medical evacuation flight. It was a long flight-hour day so he couldn‘t make it home to his wife in Madang for a nice Valentine‘s dinner. 

Wouldn’t you be disappointed to be put off on Valentine’s Day by your spouse because of unexpected and extra long work hours? 

“That is what LOVE is about, helping a woman and a baby struggling between life and death!“ commented his wife on social media that night. 

This is just another example of our MAF staff’s day-to-day challenges, and shows how our pilots/families often go/fly the extra miles.

But also the people in the remote villages often go the extra mile in order to have MAF coming to serve their community, as Remi found out:

The Day Before: Ambulua & Junkaral

The day before, I also flew the same RAA fuel and lawnmowers around and had some more interesting happenings:

We got a good weather report from Ambulua at 6am, so we could fly there. When I asked the MAF agent there how he got word to MAF so early in the morning to give a weather and airstrip report, he pointed at the mountain (the closer ridge) he’d have to hike to in order to get a phone signal to call, apparently a 2-hour hike!

Pointing to where the mobile phone signal is received (RvW)

Junkaral, which was the last airstrip of the day to land at, seemed like it had somewhat longer grass than normal, which is why we go there, to bring fule and lawnmowers so the villagers can keep the grass cut. But after landing, the grass appeared much longer than I could see from the air.

So again, I had to make a quick decision. The grass was long because the fuel for the lawnmower had run out. So we quickly filled the community’s lawnmower with some of the fuel we had just flown in. While the RAA worker did his job, I got someone else to immediately start cutting the grass so that at least there would be short grass in the middle of the runway, ensuring that we wouldn’t have a lot of drag on take off. The people worked really hard to cut enough of a clearing so that we could depart safely.

Mowing the grass at Junkaral (RvW)

 

It has been worth the Detour

We are also relieved to record that the medevac on Valentine’s Day was worth the detour. 

Rebecca Williams, Director of Nursing at Kompiam hospital, reported on the 27th of February: “I’m pleased to inform you that the mother from Malaumanda is well. She had some complications, she ruptured her membranes and did not progress to labor so we had to augment her to try and improve her contractions but that failed. Eventually, we had to do a cesarean section for her. Both, she and her baby have done well. Today they travel back to Malaumanda.“

L-r: Kompiam nursing officer, medevaced couple with the baby sleeping in the bilum on her mother’s back, another family from Malaumanda who came to deliver at Kompiam, Director of Nursing Rebecca Williams (RW)

 

Thank you for partnering with us as MAF, allowing us to help the people of Papua New Guinea with their most basic needs – having a MAF aircraft come to their village to deliver help, hope and healing.

Textron Aviation and Mission Aviation Fellowship International announce firm order for five Cessna Caravans, creating an exclusively Caravan MAF Papua New Guinea fleet. 

PAPUA NEW GUINEA (March 09, 2018) – Textron Aviation Inc., a Textron Inc. (NYSE:TXT) company, and Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) International are pleased to announce the order of five Cessna Caravan 208 turboprops for its operations in Papua New Guinea (PNG), with the option for purchasing an additional two aircraft. This is the single largest aircraft investment by MAF International in its history. The five aircraft are scheduled to be delivered from Textron Aviation before the end of this year and are expected to be operational in PNG by mid-2019.

Since 1951 MAF has been serving the most isolated communities in PNG to bring physical and spiritual relief. MAF enables thousands of aid workers, long-term development specialists, mission workers, doctors and nurses, teachers and water engineers to deliver food, medical supplies and relief, water and education to those living in the most remote areas.

During the last decade, MAF has slowly been expanding the operations of the Cessna Caravan; it is now used to operate into 95 percent of the more than 230 remote bush airstrips—many of which are positioned on mountain ridgelines. With the purchase of the five Caravan turboprops, MAF adds to its existing fleet of three in PNG, transitioning to a single fleet consisting exclusively of Caravan aircraft.

Aviation Director for MAF International, William Nicol said, “With an all-Caravan fleet powered by the dependable PT6 engine, significant gains in reliability and mission impact will be achieved. The Caravan provides the capability that ensures an effective, efficient and sustainable operation—a critical consideration when operating with limited infrastructure in challenging conditions, where remote access often becomes a matter of life and death.’

“MAF’s choice to expand its fleet with the Caravan is a testament to the reliability, value and superb performance abilities of the aircraft,” said Jessica Pruss, president, Asia Pacific sales, and marketing at Textron Aviation. “We are delighted to continue supporting MAF with the Caravan, an aircraft the organization can depend on to efficiently accomplish its missions.’

PNG is home to an incredible diversity of tribal groups, with more than 800 different languages and a vast array of local cultures, customs and beliefs. Of the population, 85 percent live in rural areas, relying on subsistence agriculture for survival. With no countrywide road network, overland travel is often lengthy, exhausting and dangerous. The only way most communities can reach the outside world, or be reached by others, is by trekking long distances, often for several days at a time. Effectively “locked” behind seemingly impenetrable jungles, mountains and/or swamps, communities have little or no access to basic healthcare and education; their ability to develop and engage with the wider economy and improve their own standard of living is extremely limited. Access to an air service provides options and opportunities to change these circumstances. MAF’s new Caravan turboprops are a means through which hope and development can be provided for these isolated men, women and children.

William Nicol, aviation director, Mission Aviation Fellowship with Kate Hamilton, regional sales director, Textron Aviation in front of a Grand Caravan EX

About the Cessna Caravan

The Cessna Caravan fleet of more than 2,600 aircraft is certified in 100 countries with more than 20 million flight hours amassed since the aircraft was introduced. Caravan aircraft fulfill roles for multiple missions, ranging from flight training to recreation, commuter airlines to VIP transport, cargo carriers and humanitarian missions. The aircraft was engineered for challenging missions, high payloads, and short, rough runways while providing single-engine economy and simplicity.

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About Textron Aviation Inc.

Textron Aviation Inc. is the leading general aviation authority and home to the Beechcraft, Cessna and Hawker brands, which account for more than half of all general aviation aircraft flying. For more than 90 years, the Textron Aviation brands have represented unrivaled innovation, performance and leadership in the industry, offering an unmatched value proposition rooted in the total ownership experience. Leveraging unparalleled speed-to-market, Textron Aviation provides the most versatile and comprehensive business and general aviation product portfolio in the world through five principal lines of business: business jets, general aviation and special mission turboprop aircraft, high-performance piston aircraft, military trainer and defense aircraft and a complete global customer service organization. Textron Aviation has delivered more than 250,000 aircraft in over 143 countries. Its broad range of products includes such best-selling aircraft as Citation business jets, King Air and Caravan turboprops and T-6 military trainer aircraft, all of which are backed by the industry’s most capable global service network. For more information, visit www.txtav.com.

About Textron Inc.

Textron Inc. is a multi-industry company that leverages its global network of aircraft, defense, industrial and finance businesses to provide customers with innovative solutions and services. Textron is known around the world for its powerful brands such as Bell, Cessna, Beechcraft, Hawker, Jacobsen, Kautex, Lycoming, E-Z-GO, Greenlee, Textron Off Road, Arctic Cat, Textron Systems, and TRU Simulation + Training. For more information, visit www.textron.com.

Certain statements in this press release are forward-looking statements which may project revenues or describe strategies, goals, outlook or other non-historical matters; these statements speak only as of the date on which they are made, and we undertake no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements. These statements are subject to known and unknown risks, uncertainties, and other factors that may cause our actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied by such forward-looking statements, including but not limited to changes in aircraft delivery schedules or cancellations or deferrals of orders.

It’s the local communities!

In 2017, our MAF aircraft landed on 217 different airstrips across the mainland of Papua New Guinea, which is more airstrips than airlines like Qantas or Lufthansa land at.

It is not an easy task to keep the little bush airstrips in operational condition to comply with the high MAF standards for safety. Keeping the grass cut all the time in a tropical climate, and having a good drainage system to prevent the airstrip from being soggy is very time-consuming. Imagine if your little airstrip doesn’t get a lot of traffic, but you are still having to cut the grass all the time by hand, just in case there’s a medevac or other need.

MAF pilot Remi van Wermeskerken (MG)

“This is one of the biggest struggles we have as pilots,“ says Remi van Wermeskerken.  “Whether to close an airstrip or not if it’s not maintained to a safe standard.“

Because it is quite challenging to encourage the communities to keep their grass cut, a small NGO called Rural Airstrip Agency, RAA, was formed a few years ago by an ex-MAF pilot. RAA gets funding from the government to bring lawnmowers and fuel to many of these communities. It’s working and RAA is doing a great job. But since they don’t have airplanes, they depend on MAF to bring the fuel and one of their personnel to each airstrip on a regular basis. The worker checks the condition of the lawnmower and gives instruction to the community on how to maintain the airstrips. It makes the life of our MAF pilots a lot easier and safer!

By mid February, it was time again for the RAA’s quarterly charter flights out of Mt Hagen to airstrips in the Enga and Western Provinces. While the Cessna Caravan was the perfect plane to do the long sectors towards Western Province, the GA8 Airvan was chosen to do the trips to the Enga airstrips.

Originally based at Madang, Remi van Wermeskerken had to come and overnight at Mt Hagen in order to do three continuous days of flying for RAA to stock up the fuel and bring the RAA worker to many airstrips. 

“It’s fun,“ says Remi. “Knowing that together we’re making the lives of the villagers a lot easier is a great thing!.“

But it is also hard work for our pilots and requires a lot of flexibility and creativity on the spot. Often enough, a nicely planned flight schedule gets shaken for various reasons no-one could have foreseen. 

Below, Remi shares some of his experiences from his third and last day of the February RAA charters:

 

An Early Take-off: Things don’t go as Planned 

It was going to be a regular day of flying, taking fuel and lawnmowers to several small airstrips we service with our MAF planes. The route for that day was: Mt. Hagen-Lapalama-Iropena-Yomneki-Mt Hagen-Maramuni-Eleme-Mt. Hagen. 

 

Lapalama airstrip (MSG)

 

The afternoon before, I made sure all was ready, only to find out that the jerry cans of fuel weren’t filled yet, the money to pay the airstrip workers hadn’t been asked for yet, and no one had checked the condition of the airstrips. I asked the RAA worker, who was in charge of the flights, fuel, and lawnmowers, if at least he could be at the airport at 6 am the next morning for an early start before some of the airstrips close because of the weather. He guaranteed that he would. 

So now the race was on to try and take out K 10,000 from finance to pay the airstrip workers. That was completed just before the finance people went home for the afternoon. Then we found out that there was major fighting in Iropena and Yomneki so we had to cancel going there. To only go to Lapalama, wouldn’t be cost effective so the route was changed to only one round: Mt Hagen-Lapalama-Maramuni-Eleme-Mt Hagen. Except…..that I hadn’t been to Eleme before so had to ask experienced pilots who recently have been there about the condition of the airstrip, dangers, peculiarities, and other pertinent information so that I could then ask the Flight Operations Manager for approval to land there. 

The next morning, I was ready to take off at 6 am but the RAA staff was not to be found. He showed up almost an hour late with the reason that, “he was afraid to walk to the MAF base in the dark.” So we got a later start than I had planned on. Then I gave him the K10,000 that I had received from MAF the previous evening and he started counting it and then counted it again, and then split it up in small amounts to be divided between the airstrip workers. Then he started filling out lots of paperwork. Obviously, he wasn’t under any pressure to get anywhere or complete the flights. So I had to coach him along to work fast and consider doing things in the plane as we were flying to each destination.  

Then one of our base staff came to ask if we could help her load the lawnmower, “because she couldn’t do it by herself.“ Well, a lawnmower weights about 120kg!

A 120kg lawnmower needs a few hands to be loaded (RvW)

 

First Stop Lapalama: Another Delay

The first landing was uneventful at Lapalama. Except that the person holding the keys for the shed where their empty jerry cans were stored was nowhere to be found. So we couldn’t transfer the fuel to their jerry cans until the person finally showed up. So we had another delay and still lots to accomplish, especially because after three nights away from home, I wanted to get home to Madang to celebrate Valentine’s Day with my wife and another couple.

Transferring the lawnmower fuel into the community’s containers at Lapalama (RvW)

Maramuni: A Phone Call

Doing paperwork in the cockpit (RvW)

Next leg was to Maramuni where we had to replace a broken lawnmower with a new one. They weigh 120kg so are bulky and heavy. After landing in Maramuni, I was wondering why the RAA worker didn‘t get out of the plane after just having sat for half an hour in the plane, staring out of the window. He decided to then start doing his paperwork.

Transferring the fuel at Maramuni (RvW)

After unloading the new lawnmower and loading the broken one into the plane, instead of wasting my time, I thought I‘d just give the new lawnmower a try, only to find out that as soon as we put fuel in the tank, it was leaking all over and there were other issues. So we started taking apart the new mower and took parts from the old one to fix it. 

But then, my phone rang. Our head office wanted to know where I was and if I could do a very urgent medevac flight from a nearby village for a woman having serious difficulties in giving birth. So I had to figure out if I had enough fuel and time to do it. We figured it was possible but…..I‘d then have to fly from Kompiam, where the mission hospital is, back to Mt Hagen to get more fuel to complete the previously planned route. 

I asked the RAA worker if he would be ok if I left him in Maramuni for a couple of hours while doing the medevac. He was ok with it, especially because he had to get the new lawnmower running. I only had one extra seat in the plane which would be enough for the husband of the woman with the medical problems and I could then strap the woman down in the back as she couldn‘t sit up anyways. So off I went on a 15-minute flight to Malamaunda. 

Maramuni (RvW)

Stay tuned for Part 2 and continue reading how the rest of Remi’s flying day unfolded with the medevac and the remaining RAA mission of that day to Eleme. And also to find out if Remi managed to get home in time to celebrate Valentine’s Day with his wife.

 

 

Story Mandy Glass. Photos Remi van Wermeskerken (RvW), Mathias Glass (MSG), Mandy Glass (MG)

Delivering Aid and Repatriating Patients into the Earthquake-stricken Area

Story Mandy Glass. Photos Glenys Watson (GW), Jonny Watson (JW), Jason Marsh (JM), Markus Bischoff (MB), Sally Lloyd (SL), Mandy Glass (MG)

“This week I’ve been busy flying over 8500Kgs of relief goods to those communities affected by the earthquake, including rice, tinned fish, water, nails, hammers, spades, tarps and hygiene kits,” commented Glenys Watson, one of our Twin Otter pilots involved in the deliveries. “It’s a privilege to be here in Papua New Guinea working as part of a great team, showing the love of Christ, and bringing services to isolated people.”

Some of the relief goods were designated for Huya. This community was only accessible by helicopter, as their airstrip suffered damage from the many severe aftershocks, and therefore was closed for fixed-wing operations. Even so, Huya had already become a major care centre with 1,400 people from the area seeking refuge there, as they knew that the airstrip would be their access point for aid.

On Friday, the 23rd of March, SIL* was able to complete three helicopter charters to lift supplies from Dodomona to Huya. This demonstrates the amazing teamwork between the mission aviation ministries like SIL Aviation, SDA** Aviation and MAF for the sake and blessing of the communities affected by the earthquakes.

(* SIL … Summer Institute of Linguistics, ** SDA … Seventh Day Adventist)

Fresh vegetables for Huya

One of our team members was on the ground at Huya when the SIL helicopter arrived, delivering the fresh vegetables, which were donated the day before by churches and individual residents in Mt Hagen. Jonny reports:

“The people at Huya were so thankful! I reckon that I saw a very similar giant kaukau (sweet potato) in Huya to the one the base staff at Mt Hagen found amongst donations MAF received later. The kaukau that they grow in Huya are very small, nothing like they are in the Highlands, so they were very impressed by the size. Many of them had also never seen carrots or cabbages either, as their climate is too wet for them to grow. In fact, Sally Lloyd was telling them how they could eat them, and to make sure they ate the cabbages on Friday as otherwise they would not last. For me, this was quite ironic as the night before I was teased about never having eaten pitpit* before.“

(*Pitpit is the edible flower of wild cane that grows rampantly in PNG. It looks like lemongrass on steroids and has a spongy texture, which is perfect for absorbing the coconut milk that it is most commonly cooked in.)

“Something that impressed me,” continued Jonny “was the calm and patience when waiting to receive their share of food. The people hadn’t eaten anything all day and the food delivered still had to be prepared. But there was no fighting over the distribution of the food. First they split it in two, for the two wards that are represented currently in Huya village. Then each was split into four, for the four villages in each ward. I was told it would be split further, not into families but into cooking groups as their tradition is to cook in groups and then portion the cooked food to each family.“

“With the airstrip at Huya being closed and uncertainty of when helicopters will cease to come, the community has decided to only have a single meal each day to conserve the food they have been given. I feel sorry for the children in particular and for the nursing and expectant mums. But at the same time understand the need for prudence without having their usual gardens for food.”

10 Twin Otter Charters and more to come

This past week (19th – 23rd March), MAF completed a total of 10 Twin Otter charters delivering earthquake relief supplies to Mougulu, Dodomona, Walagu and Bosavi.

Out of these 10 flights, one Twin Otter load was compiled of “House Kits” (building materials) donated by OTDF (Ok Tedi Development Foundation). The North Fly member of the Western Province paid for the cost of this charter from Kiunga to Dodomona. CARE International paid for another Twin Otter charter, which took three of their staff, clothes, and other relief items into Dodomona. Another flight to Bosavi was funded by Christian Books Melanesia.

MAF paid for the remaining seven flights out of its MAF International Disaster Response funds; money raised across the globe by many people. Currently, MAF is flying goods that have been donated by PNG citizens or local businesses to the affected region at no charge to these people.

 

Douglas is back home in his village.

On Friday, the 23rd of March, when a Twin Otter departed Mt. Hagen for the last earthquake-relief flight of the week, besides fresh vegetables there were also 11 passengers on board. They were heading back home to Huya. Two to three weeks ago, when these people landed at Mt Hagen, no one smiled. They all suffered from trauma and great pain after experiencing the force of the earthquake, not only shaking up their mountains but their entire lives and futures.

During their stay in Mt Hagen, they experienced the love and care of many people who reached out to them with food, clothes and prayers.

What a joy to see the full circle of these people being cared for right from the beginning!

Sally Lloyd shared Douglas’ story on social media:

“Douglas came home yesterday! I was there in the village on the night of March 6th when a violent 6.7 earthquake followed the 7.5 magnitude one on February 26th and the constant aftershocks. It was a frightening experience, and for those in so much stress, more than some could bear. Like many others with broken bones, cuts and bumps, Douglas fell as he was trying to get out of his house. It was frightening for me too, so caring for the injured kept me busy and blocked out a little of the awful noise of rocks and ground falling while we waited for the morning.“
So thankful for MAF,“ continued Sally, “who the next day, evacuated Douglas and others who had been injured. Thankful for the wonderful people in Mt. Hagen including hospital, business houses and churches.
Thankful for MAF in returning him closer to us, and for SIL aviation and pilot T.J. Eiswald for getting Douglas back to Huya via helicopter.
Thanks to you all – the aftershocks continue but we are working with the community to bring help and support.“

 

Huya airstrip re-opened!

On the 26th of March, MAF completed an aerial assessment of Huya airstrip following reports provided by RAA* that the damaged areas of the airstrip had been adequately repaired. Huya airstrip was re-opened for MAF operations on the 27th of March; a MAF Twin Otter landed at Huya airstrip and delivered more relief goods.

(* RAA Rural Airstrip Agency)

Please keep praying

Please continue to pray for the communities and the individuals affected by the many earthquakes following the 7.5 magnitude one on February 26th. They now have to start re-building their communities’ infrastructure and future. They have a long road ahead. Some of them have to decide whether or not to permanently abandon their damaged homes and villages, and if so, how to build new lives that are full of meaning and possibility.