Our Goroka Twin Otter crew, Brad Venter and Jason Marsh, arrived for work that particular Monday morning expecting a normal Goroka Twin Otter program. Their first run was a drop off for some passengers and cargo in Guwasa, from where they would then fly to A*, a nearby airstrip where a group of missionaries are based. One of the missionary ladies there was relocating and they planned to take her and her cargo to Aiyura. However, things didn’t go so smoothly. The following is an unfolding of the morning’s events, as told by Brad and Jason.
Jason: By 8:30am, we had still been unable to get any weather reports, and this delay was pushing our planned return to Goroka past 6 pm, which is close to our last light limit. 95% of the airstrips in PNG are not lighted for night flying, Goroka included. I talked with our programmer to see if he could come up with another plan to allow us to maximize what we could complete that day. A little while later, he told us we should just go straight to A* – Aiyura – Goroka, and then continue on with the rest of our program. He also reported that the weather at A* and Aiyura was good, so we quickly prepared everything for these flight legs.
Brad: After completing our checks, we taxied out for take-off. On take-off we noticed that the auto-feather system on the Otter was not working. This is a critical system used for taking off at short airstrips. In fact, if it is not working, then taking off is prohibited. We aborted the take-off and did some more tests and the system seemed to work fine. We attempted the take-off again and this time everything seemed to work without a problem. However, we were a little concerned because if it failed on the ground in A*, we would be stuck. However, we decided that it would be fine.
After a short 15 minute flight, we arrived at A* and met the missionaries there. One of the missionaries quickly pulled Jason aside and told him that, as well as our booked load, they wanted us to put a young woman, Susan*, on the aircraft and take her to Goroka. She had been abused and brutally beaten by her husband over several days and he was intending to kill her. Susan had managed to escape and had found refuge at the mission station. The missionaries had hidden the woman in their house, but now they needed to move her and had arranged a safe house for her in Goroka.
After loading the cargo, we prepared the aircraft and Jason started the left engine. The missionary had gone to fetch Susan from his house and they had concealed her in his Land Cruiser which has tinted windows. His wife had also wrapped Susan up in a scarf so that no one could recognise her. He reversed the vehicle right up to the aircraft door and Susan quickly jumped into the aircraft. I closed the door and ran around the aircraft to get in.
Jason: Brad climbed in and we taxied to the top of the airstrip, lining up for take-off. This allowed us to have a good view down the runway and to see if her husband was coming. Here, we completed the rest of our check list. I applied power but, due to the steepness of the airstrip, the plane started to slide. The Auto Feather Arm Light was not lighting, and so we had to abort. Without the Auto Feather Arm light coming on, we cannot take-off. We maneuvered the aircraft around so that we could test the system again, and everything was working as it should. We repositioned ourselves at the top of the runway, applied power, let out a prayer to God, and everything worked fine with just a short delay before the Auto Feather Arm Light lit up. Off we went to get Susan to a women‘s shelter and to safety.
Brad: We had an uneventful flight to Aiyura and then flew back to Goroka where Bryan Matthews (from CRMF) and his wife Pam were waiting to take Susan to the safe house. Michelle and Melanie, our wives, were communicating with Bryan and Pam as to whether Susan had clothes and food and other necessary supplies for her stay in the safe house. Together they packed a few boxes to give to her.
Jason: God knew about this issue with our aircraft, but He allowed to do this one flight to get Susan out to safety.
Brad: We had also been communicating with engineering regarding the state of the aircraft, and it was decided that, after this flight, no more flying would happen that day until the aircraft could be flown to Mt Hagen the next morning for repairs.
Later we had a chance to speak with Bryan and Pam, and we found out a bit more about Susan’s story. She is 27 years old, was married at age 17, and has five children all under the age of 10. Her husband has been repeatedly abusing her and beating her for many years. She has feared for her life to the point of considering suicide. Susan recently managed to run away and seek shelter with the missionaries. Her story is even sadder because she has survived breast cancer and was recently diagnosed with cancer of the uterus which seems to have spread to other parts of her body, making her blind in one eye. She still fears for her life, despite being in the safehouse, because even if her husband is arrested, once he is released from prison he will come looking for her again. Being a mother, Susan of course is also very concerned about her children who are still in the village with her husband.
Getting the police to do something is a challenge. They are very busy, and this story is unfortunately an all too common occurrence. Not only that, funding is limited and so the police do not have the fuel to drive to the village (which fortunately has a road) to go and make an arrest.
This story is far from finished. Susan can only stay in the safe house for about one month. Following that, it is unclear as to where she will go. During this time, Pam Matthews is trying to get the police to follow up on the case and make an arrest. She will have to find the funds to pay for the fuel for the police vehicles. If they can make an arrest, then hopefully they can bring the children to be with Susan in Goroka. Even if all this is successful, we can’t be sure that the husband will be convicted, and then how many years he will spend in prison. On top of that, Susan still has the battle with cancer, with medical treatment in Papua New Guinea being very limited. That leaves five children with a very bleak future indeed.
Unfortunately, abuse of women is common in PNG, and the government is almost powerless to do anything about it. Something else that happens frequently in PNG is witch killings, where people (usually women) are accused by someone of witchcraft or sorcery. If this happens, then it is virtually a death sentence for the person who has been named. They are usually tortured and then killed. This is something that is happening in PNG regularly and not much is being done about it.
Looking back on the flight that saved Susan, we can see God’s hand in it. Had we flown to Guwasa first, it is possible that due to the problems with the auto-feather system, we may have chosen to return to Goroka and thus would not have complete the flight to A*.
Please pray for Susan and her children. We are at a loss as to what to do, and we can only trust that God will bring something good out of it all.
* No photos of the actual flight are included to protect the identity of the persons involved. Accordingly, names of people and places have been changed or abbreviated