Part 2: An Interview with Joël Rominger

Joël has been fascinated by the weather since he was a small boy. At a Christian youth conference, he met a young man who had pursued his dream to become a MAF pilot and was ready to leave for his first assignment. This encounter was like a seed planted in Joël’s heart to become a bush or mission pilot himself. Several years later, after completing a degree in geography with a major in meteorology, he forecast the weather as a meteorologist on several Swiss radio stations. After he gained his Private Pilot Licence in December 2015, he enjoyed flying over Switzerland manoeuvring through the variety of the Swiss weather. To turn this passion into a profession, he trained as a professional pilot in MAF’s own flight school in Mareeba, Australia.
At the beginning of this year, Joël together with his wife Andrea arrived in our programme. To start off with, both enjoyed the beautiful weather in the Highlands as they were based at Mt Hagen. Some months later, they lived for several weeks at Rumginae, Western Province, experiencing the hot and humid climate of the lowlands, but also recognising the different weather challenges while Joël continued with the MAF PNG specific flight training there.
Currently, they have just set up a short-term home at Kawito to continue with Joël’s training.

The following interview reflects on Joël’s time flying out of Rumginae.

What does it mean for you finally to sit in the left-hand seat of a Cessna Caravan, starting your training to become a MAF Pilot? Share a bit about your history of how you started to become a pilot.
I did my PPL (Private Pilot Licence) in Switzerland. Flying over my country of origin with all its mountains, glaciers, rivers and lakes was a beautiful first flight experience. Then I did my CPL (Commercial Pilot Licence) and Instrument Rating with MAF in Mareeba, Australia. This was a great training environment with very experienced flight instructors. We had access to controlled airspace within 15 minutes flight and also a bushy dirt airstrip also 15 minutes flight time away. Besides that, this was also a wonderful landscape! Within 30min flying, we were overhead the Great Barrier Reef, over the Daintree Rainforest or over the dry outback of Chillagoe.
Now, flying in PNG is a real privilege for me: being entrusted with flying a brand-new Turbine Cessna Caravan C208, equipped with the latest amazing avionics in one of the oldest, busiest and most difficult MAF-I countries. This is all within the safe boundaries of two great instructors: Volkher Jacobsen is one of the most experienced pilots in terms of flying in Papua New Guinea; the other, Simon Wunderli, is one of the most experienced in terms of flying the Caravan within MAF-I.

What’s the biggest difference between your previous training experience and now flying with MAF in PNG, doing training but also already being involved in flight operations?
For the first time, I have paying passengers on board. With great pleasure, I check during flight whether they are okay and comfortable. It’s great to carry responsibility for them and care about their comfort. For example, I love to give them a captain‘s call while in cruise to keep them up-to-date about the flight time remaining and check their well-being.
In these past weeks of training out of Rumginae, was there a special Aha-effect/Wow-effect, a training lesson you will never forget?
There were a few:
• Finding a hole in the cloud to climb up by observing the sun-shade patchwork on the ground.
• How flexible our daily work schedule and plan has to be due to medevacs (cut off toe, mother in labour difficulties), due to weather etc.
• How different the seasons are whether you fly in North Fly or South Fly.
• What would be the right emergency aircraft configuration in case of a forced landing on top of the lush and wide jungle treetops.

What are the specific challenges of flying in Western Province?
In Rumginae, low clouds often stick around for a long time in the mornings, while in Kiunga (only an 8 minutes flight away) the weather is already flyable. Therefore, at the end of the day, we often leave the plane in Kiunga and travel back and forth by car, which is a 45 minute, bumpy, dirt road trip, one way.
Currently flying in the North and Middle Fly’s wet season is another real challenge for all of us. Especially as the Aerial Health Patrol flights have started and we often have to position ourselves from Rumginae/Kiunga to Balimo and vice-versa.
On a personal note, for me and Andrea knowing that we were based at Rumginae temporary for training purpose is a challenge on its own. The current training is scheduled out of Kawito… We long to know where we will eventually settle down so we can turn a MAF house into our home, at least for a while… Move Again Friend is a saying about MAF that we are experiencing for ourselves.

You are a fully trained CPL as your licence says, now that you’ve seen quite a bit of the country and MAF’s operations, would you rather just go flying on your own or are you glad to have an instructor pilot sitting in the right-hand seat?
On one hand, yes, I would love to take full responsibility. But on the other hand, I realise that the step from normal casual piston plane flying in flat Australia to high tech turbine plane flying in rugged PNG would be too big a step to handle safely. So I’m very glad that the two instructors take precious time away from their families in Australia to come and teach me and Joseph.

What was the most joyful experience you had flying in Western Province?
Starting the Aerial Health Project (AHP) and Joseph flying the first team to Wawoi Falls was a great event. This is one of the last regions that has not yet been covered by the Polio Vaccination Campaign within the last 1.5 year after a Polio reoccurrence in PNG. The last official and recorded health patrol in Wawoi Falls happened in the 1980-ies according to the AHP Project Manager. Landing with the precious freight and capable nurses on board made me very happy, especially seeing all the kids running around and knowing finally their essential vaccination and medicine has arrived. Then, with the waterfall in the approach and beautiful huge trees at the airstrip Wawoi Falls is just a very picturesque place.

What was the most challenging interaction at a remote community/ with passengers?
Closing an airstrip due to long grass at Nomad River, but Volkher’s appropriate Melanesian communication skills keeping the discussion peaceful.
Passengers in Mougulu or Lake Murray only having a receipt and not the correct ticket means chasing ticket information via poor phone reception or the aircraft’s HF radio to confirm that they are entitled to come on board. After all, paper work needs to be correct.

What are you looking forward to?
There are a few things coming to mind:
• More training experiences with the instructors
• Easier weather conditions for daily flying (bad weather makes the whole operation even trickier)
• My first solo flight one day
• To be able to settle down at a certain outstation together with Andrea.

From what you’ve seen so far, is this the kind of flying and living you expect when starting on the path to becoming a MAF pilot assigned to fly in PNG?
Yes. I heard that compared with most MAF-I programmes, here in PNG and also in Arnhem Land it’s mostly about transporting national people and their cargo. That’s an amazing way to serve the people and show them through aviation God’s unconditional love for them.

On Friday 15th November, there was quite a long program planned for the Goroka based aircraft P2-MAK piloted by Brad Venter. He shares:

“We had to fetch a missionary from Owena, there were a number of other flights planned and we wanted to do a few airstrip surveys. We also had to do a charter in the afternoon that had been planned for some time.
On arrival at the base, we found out about a woman with a retained placenta that was having trouble and needed to be brought out to the hospital. We rearranged the program and by 7:40 am we had departed for Wuyabo to drop of some patients that were returning to their home, a 30-minute flight.
 
We dropped them off and then Sarah Prins, who currently does a Mission Experience Programme with MAF PNG, did an airstrip survey. Following that, we took off and went to Owena to fetch the missionary there. Sarah did another survey.

Our next stop was to fetch the woman with the retained placenta. On landing, the people in the village brought her to the aircraft on a well-made bamboo stretcher. While I loaded her into the aircraft, Sarah was able to do another airstrip survey.
I had found out in the morning that the woman was unable to sit in the aircraft and so I had brought the stretcher with me. We transferred her to the stretcher and made her comfortable in the shade under the wing of the aircraft. I loaded up some coffee bags to help cover the cost of the flight. Afterward, we loaded the stretcher into the aircraft and I managed to use the harness to secure the stretcher and the women safely in the aircraft.
 
The challenge was that the baby was still attached to the mother by the umbilical cord and so it was not possible to move the baby from the position it was in. I was worried that if the stretcher moved on takeoff and the baby’s face was covered then it would not be able to breathe. I arranged with the missionary that he would sit in the seat behind the stretcher and monitor the situation with the baby and rectify it if necessary. The woman’s guardian was in the seat next to the patient.
 
The takeoff went well and during the flight 40-minute flight to Goroka we made sure that we monitored the situation in the back so that we could do something in the event there was a problem.
 
To get out the valley I had to climb to 12000ft, but as soon as I could I descended again to 8000ft to ensure that the baby was getting adequate oxygen.
 
On arrival in Goroka, about 11:15 am, we were able to give to the woman a medevac pack that had been prepared by the MAF ladies. Soon afterward, our base staff drove her to the hospital while we continued with the remaining flight program for the day.
 
The baby appeared to be healthy and we are trusting that we will be able to fly them back to their village sometime soon in the future.”

Part 1: An Interview with Joseph Tua
Interview by Mandy Glass. Photos by Joseph Tua (JT), Andrea and Joël Rominger (AJR)

Hello, I’22-year-old old Papua New Guinean and I just finished all my flight training at Nelson Aviation College in New Zealand.
Could you give me the contact details to which I can hand my CV to?
I really wanna start off my career by flying for MAF as that would be me saying thank you to God for helping me thus far in my flight training.
Thank you.

About two years ago, on 19 August 2017, this message was received on our MAF Papua New Guinea Facebook page. The inquiring person was referred to MAF Australia’s website (https://maf.org.au/transformation/) for more details about a career as a pilot with MAF in PNG and encouraged to take it from there, to hand in his CV paired with a letter of interest and to file an application. The response ended with good wishes, “All the best and God bless – and maybe you’ll soon become part of our MAF PNG team!”
And now, in September 2019, Joseph Tua, from Pangia in the Southern Highlands Province, is indeed part of our MAF PNG team!

Joseph spent most of his life growing up in Port Moresby and has been accepted to join MAF PNG as a low hours pilot. He is currently being trained by pilots Volkher Jacobsen and Simon Wunderli from the Queensland based MAF Mareeba Aviation Training Centre to fly in Western Province, specifically for the Aerial Health Patrol Programme.
At the end of 2018, Joseph successfully completed the MAF standardisation programme at Mareeba which was the last big hurdle before being accepted as a MAF pilot. In January 2019 he completed the conversion training for the Cessna Caravan C208 as this was going to be the aircraft he would fly in Papua New Guinea.
By July 2019, Joseph had finished the MAF PNG orientation programme and his initial operations training at the Mt Hagen base and hangar. Now he was ready for take-off!

What does it mean for you finally to sit in the left-hand seat of a Cessna Caravan, beginning your training to become an MAF PNG Pilot? Share a bit about your history of how you started to become a pilot.
I didn’t expect to be flying an aircraft as big as the Caravan so soon, to be honest! At the flight training school, we were used to flying the smaller, lighter ones and then to go from that to a relatively bigger and heavier aircraft was quite something. I was a bit nervous at first – not sure if I would be able to fly the Caravan – but then I was also excited! I’m someone who loves a good challenge and this felt like a good challenge – hehe – and I mean, everything happens in its own timing and if this was the time, then bring it on!
To be sitting in the left hand seat of a Caravan and starting my training to become an MAF Pilot is a big privilege and a huge honour! I don’t think many people get a chance like this and I am just blessed. But at the same time it is stressful – I feel the need to perform to a high standard and sometimes I question myself if I am able to do this or if I am worthy to be doing this, you know?
But my biggest drive right now is to serve God and the people of Papua New Guinea. And so far, flying around the Western Province bringing medical staff from the Aerial Health Patrol Project to villages, doing medevacs, and shuttling people in and out of various isolated places has just been a joy.

Joël Rominger, Joseph Tua and Volkher Jacobsen on their first training day out of Rumginae (AJR)

What’s the biggest difference between your previous training experience and now flying with MAF in PNG, flying as a pilot–in–command under supervision (ICUS), but also already being involved in flight operations?
The biggest difference so far is that now you actually have passengers on board that you have to manage and be considerate about, as well as dealing with the MAF Agents at the airstrips we fly to. So it’s not so much of a difference in terms of actually flying the aircraft but more on the side of dealing with people, loading cargo and, oh my goodness, the paper work! Haha! But in terms of flying it’s getting out of that training mentality, where your instructor tells you what to do and you do it without questioning, and you actually make decisions and either sticking by them or making new decisions and dealing with the consequences of those decisions, being in command of the aircraft and making it work for you.

Joseph flying his first commercial passengers as Pilot in Command under Supervision by Volkher Jacobsen; Joël observing from the 2nd row (JT)

In these past weeks of ICUS training, was there a special Aha or Wow–effect, a training lesson you won’t never forget?
Hahahaha, aahhhh, where do I begin???? I swear, my mind has been blown so many times by so many different wow moments I’ve seen so far! I think the one that sticks out so far is our flight to Dahamo. We had two PNG missionaries on board that were bound for Dahamo and the Dahamo area was just covered with cloud and isolated showers here and there and it seemed like we weren’t going to get there. We had tried the day before already, but could not make it in due to rain so we were trying again the next day. The instructor was flying and so he slowed the plane down and navigated past the showers and low clouds. We stayed within our limits the whole time but even flying close to the limits made me nervous! So anyway, I was sitting in front observing from the right hand seat and we worked our way around the clouds and showers and guess what? There was Dahamo – in sunshine!!! Like what??? It was literally grey all around except for where Dahamo was!!! It was magical! Beautiful! Divine! The approach followed the tree line down to the threshold and the instructor flew it down perfectly! But the weather was changing fast and so we landed – and oh, the strip was wet and slimy and short! We dropped off the two missionaries and were back up in the air and out of the grey as safely and quickly as we could. But wow! What an experience! What motivation! I was just overwhelmed!

Flat and green, meandering rivers and low cloud cover – that’s Western Province (AJR)

What are the challenges of flying in Western Province?
The main challenges of the Western Province would be weather and the airstrips themselves. We are in the wet season, so there’s always low cloud and isolated showers here and there, everywhere. And judging how wet the airstrips are and whether they are safe to land on or not? And if you do land, just trying to manage the aircraft on the ground and not get stuck is another challenge.

You are a fully trained Commercial Pilot, as your licence says; would you rather just go flying on your own or are you glad to have an instructor pilot sitting in the right hand seat now that you’ve seen quite a bit of the country and MAF’s operations already?
I am very, very, VERY happy to have our instructor pilots sitting in the right hand seat and teaching and guiding us through the different types of operational situations and pouring their knowledge of weather and navigation and their experience of flying the Caravan into us. Especially their knowledge of weather and navigation around PNG. The stuff they know and have taught us so far is just amazing!

What was the most joyful experience you had flying in Western Province so far?
It’s just flying the people around and seeing how grateful they are to be going home or to be receiving their supplies. The smiles on their faces – I live for that.

What was the most challenging interaction at a remote community/with passengers?
The remote communities are all very welcoming and we haven’t had any challenges with them so far. With passengers, my most challenging interaction was handing a passenger the sick bag while they were throwing up and then cleaning up after. It was a huge mess! I feel like throwing up just thinking about it as I’m writing. That day was honestly not the best day for me, but then, what could you have done and who else would clean it up? It’s part of the job so I didn’t mind. I still felt like throwing up though.
What are you looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to getting to know the aircraft and reading the weather and navigating around the Western Province and the rest of Papua New Guinea a whole lot more and a whole lot better. Because then can I go all out in serving the isolated people all over this beautiful country.

Joseph, being a Papua New Guinean flying in your own home country for people living in remote communities – how does that feel?
It’s an honour! A privilege and a joy! You can see how much these people rely on air services and just how grateful and appreciative they are when you land and park up. It’s more than just flying – it’s about the people. PNG is more than just the province I come from, it’s everyone from the Highlands to the Coast and we do our small part by providing an air service and I hope – sooner rather than later – that proper roads and services reach these isolated communities. Some of these communities are just so isolated you get taken back to the past when you land and see them.

Loading and unloading cargo is part of a MAF pilot’s duties (JT)

How do you manage being a bachelor living on your own and training, studying, being away from family to focus on your flying career?
Well, I have to cook for myself because mama is too far away (Port Moresby), haha. But it’s not so bad. This part of the journey helps or trains me to be independent and take care of myself; and it’s a chance to find out which path I want to take as life progresses. And like living on your own, you start to notice all your habits – the good ones and the bad ones – and sort of discover yourself. You have the chance to fine tune yourself and build yourself with a little less influence from your friends and/or family. You kind of learn to survive and stand on your own two feet and make your own decisions and figure out that life won’t end if you make mistakes. It’s okay to make mistakes, just as long as you clean up after yourself and learn and grow from it. You notice a lot about yourself when you live alone – your thought patterns, emotional triggers, what motivates you, what sparks your interests. The new interests that you develop along the way can sometimes surprise you, haha. Yes, I miss my family – but this time away from them is necessary so that I can become more capable of taking care of them and I am sure (well, I hope haha) they understand this.

Story by Judith Dupuis. Photos by Judith and Michael Dupuis (JMD), LuAnne Cadd (LAC) and Mandy Glass (MG)

Judith and Michael Dupuis served with MAF in Papua New Guinea for almost 4 years, first based at Mt Hagen, later on, based at Wewak. Occasionally, Judith joined Michael on flights to get out into the communities to bless the people at the various airstrips. Our pilots are usually very busy working long programmes to serve as many communities as possible, which results in busy turn-arounds and less time actually to have a decent chat with people and passengers on the ground. Judith coming along on some of Michael’s flights when there was space available, with her enthusiasm to share her faith, wanting to get to know individuals and just encourage people, could easily compensate for this lack of time to interact with people due to flight logistics. Everywhere she went, she was quickly surrounded by a crowd, as she opened the Bible Box and chatted to people in a mix of Tok Pisin (local trade language) and English. Usually, these flight days held some divine moments to be remembered.

Michael and Judith left MAF PNG a few months ago and are resettling in Canada. In their latest and last newsletter to their supporters, they share one of these divine interactions:

To Witness God’s Work in Action
As long as we have served with Mission Aviation Fellowship, we have striven to communicate adequately about the amazing things that we have seen God do; sometimes mere words seem empty and pale compared to how vibrant and spirit-filled the people are who have benefitted from the work of MAF aircraft in remote, isolated villages.

Together we toiled, many times at day’s end we would be physically and mentally tired with our clothing pungent from sweat. However, despite the occasional hardship, we never doubted that we were part of something that would have an eternal impact. The Lord granted us not only strength for the tasks He had set before us but also gave us glimpses into how this work was building His Kingdom. What better motivation and encouragement could one wish for than to witness God’s work in action and be able to tell His stories.

The Tragic Passing of a Much-loved Missionary, and Frequent MAF Traveller
This final story that we want to share with you was brought to mind due to the tragic passing of a much-loved missionary, and frequent MAF traveller, Gerhard Stamm. Gerhard served with the Liebenzell Mission, another organisation that also had a profound impact on the people of the Sepik region as well as the community of missionaries in PNG. On July 3rd of this year, Gerhard slipped from a tree-trunk while on a hike with his youth group; sadly, he was internally injured very badly and succumbed to his injuries. Gerhard will be greatly missed but we have no doubt his smile radiates even more in our Lord’s presence.

Gerhard Stamm with one of his friends and the local MAF Agent at April River in November 2016 (LAC)

God’s Answer to One Little Girl’s Prayers
This story happened in March 2018.

Gerhard, his wife Brigitte, and two short term co-workers arrived at April River village by canoe from an outreach to another remote village they were visiting as part of their mission work in the Sepik area. The April River airstrip was the nearest place they could catch a MAF aircraft back to their mission home in Mt. Hagen. The Stamms had been at the village for longer than anticipated due to poor weather conditions. It had rained for several days such that MAF aircraft could not risk landing safely on the airstrip’s wet-grass surface. It was during this unplanned lay-over in April River that they came to know a young girl named Tesnia.

April River from the air: the village Niksek and the airstrip next to the river (JMD)

Tesnia’s parents had left their daughter behind in the care of her grandparents while they relocated outside of Mt. Hagen to attend a 2 year Bible school programme at the SSEC Bible School Popun. As with most children in PNG’s remote villages, Tesnia spent most of her days running around on bare feet. Unfortunately, bare feet offer little protection in the jungle.

Tesnia (JMD)

Stuck waiting in April River for the MAF aircraft to arrive, Gerhard observed that Tesnia moved around with a limp and asked her if he could look at her foot. Upon close inspection, Gerhard realised Tesnia’s swollen foot was now badly infected. Gerhard’s concern increased when he realised Tesnia would not get any additional medical attention she needed here in the village apart from cleaning her wounded foot and wrapping it a bandage.

Gerhard, Brigitte, and the community prayed for the arrival of the MAF plane; poor communications prevented conveying the improved airstrip conditions to MAF Base staff. Prayers uplifted included Tesnia; beyond medical care, a trip to Mt. Hagen would also mean Tesnia could be re-united with her parents.
That evening Gerhard encouraged Tesnia that she could also pray to Jesus that there would be a seat for her on the plane when it did arrive. The excitement on the little girl’s face, for a moment, hid the pain of her bandaged ankle.

The next morning, the faint sound of a MAF aircraft could be heard in the distance and then it appeared flying overhead. A lower-level field inspection was flown and Michael assessed that the airstrip conditions had finally improved enough for the MAF plane to land safely. After an uneventful landing, the aircraft came to rest, was unloaded of its passengers and cargo; Michael began preparations for the departure flight onto Telefomin. Gerhard immediately came over and inquired of Michael if there would be room on the plane to take Tesnia to Mt. Hagen via Telefomin.

Gerhard and Michael in discussion (JMD)

Michael carefully weighed the baggage and considered the addition of Tesnia as a passenger. Due to recent rains, the airstrip surface was softer than usual which negatively affected the take-off performance. While Michael checked the Cessna Caravan performance charts I distributed some Grille (skin disease) medicine and also sold some Bibles.

Judith selling grille medicine (JMD)

Judith selling Bibles to the people at the April River airstrip at discounted prices (JMD)

With the calculations completed the aircraft’s usual payload needed to be reduced to compensate for the soft-surface conditions. However, Michael shared the good news that the MAF flight could safely accommodate Tesnia’s weight. Michael determined the plane would be operating at its maximum take-off weight limit and was mindful there was no room for error in pilot technique during the take-off roll and climb out.

Later that day, we spoke to Gerhard and he told us that when he had seen Tesnia that morning, she still had a worried look on her face. He asked her if she had prayed, and she replied “YES!” Gerhard reminded Tesnia of God’s faithfulness, and encouraged her to trust in Him!
We were so encouraged that God used each of us to answer a little girl’s prayers!

Disembarking the aircraft at Telefomin: Gerhard with Tesnia, one co-worker, Brigitte and another co-worker
(JMD)

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:19

This verse, written by the apostle Paul while he was imprisoned, was the same scripture verse Gerhard shared with me that same day as one of his favourite verses. Our flight that day stopped briefly in Telefomin with our hope to connect “in time” to transfer our unexpected passenger onto another MAF aircraft destined for Mt Hagen.

Trusting in God’s Provision

As I popped into the MAF Telefomin office to confirm Tesnia would indeed be able to continue her travels that same day to Mt Hagen I noticed the same scripture verse Philippians 4:19 hanging above the MAF dispatch desk but written in the local language of Tok Pisin. In my mind a prayer of gratitude went up to our Lord and a quick photo of the scripture verse captured the moment in time now past.

Trusting in God’s provision is a must when serving on the mission field. Keeping the faith sustains all of us as we live this life on earth. Writing from prison, the apostle Paul wrote to encourage the church in Philippi about the peace, joy, and contentment he found in Christ, regardless of his situation or circumstances.

As we read these words, we will always remember Gerhard’s legacy of love for the people of Papua New Guinea, and how that love impacted their lives for Christ for generations to come.

Although we have only been back in Canada for a short time, we already dearly miss what we have been so privileged to be a part of with MAF. Nevertheless, we rest assured in the knowledge that His plan is to prosper and not to harm us; to give us hope and a future.

Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Philippians 4:20
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