Story Tim Bax, Member Care Officer at MAF Canada.

During my recent Member Care trip to Papua New Guinea, I had the privilege of spending time with our Canadian families in Wewak, Telefomin, Rumginae and Mt Hagen, as well as visiting a number of bush airstrips MAF flies to in the highlands. Needless to say, it was a great privilege to see our families in action and to have some extended time with them and in their homes and communities. While I took away a wide range of impressions from my time in PNG, the most indelible impression left upon me was the profound impact MAF is having on the lives of our national workers, many of whom have been serving with MAF for decades.

 

One of the first national staff members I met was a man named Steven, a “Traffic Officer,” one of three members of MAF ground staff supporting the three pilots and two aircraft at the remote base of Telefomin. He greeted me with a warm, engaging smile and shook my hand vigorously. 


For the next few hours I watched Steven interact with his colleagues, our pilots, customers and community members as they got on and off the plane, loaded their produce into the cargo pod for transport, and even carried a young boy on a stretcher to prepare him for a medical evacuation flight. I also witnessed him working hard under the hot sun refueling our aircraft with a hand pump, drawing Avgas from a 55-gallon barrel. As he moved the ladder and refueling apparatus from one wing to the other I couldn’t help but wonder how many millions of litres of fuel Steven had pumped into our aircraft over his 20 plus year tenure with MAF and how many lives were changed because of his faithful service and constant positive attitude. 

 

 

One of the next national staff workers I met was an older woman who was affectionately introduced to me as ‘Mama Kathy.’ Kathy had been helping clean the house of one of our expat families in preparation for my arrival. After asking her how long she had been working for MAF, and how she first started working with MAF, she began to tell her story… 

 

Over the course of the next 45 minutes, I heard a story of heartbreak and hope. During our time together, Kathy revealed that early on in her marriage, she had become a serial victim of domestic violence and that her husband had beaten her badly. With tears streaming down her face, Kathy went on to further explain how the eldest of her three sons had lost his life at the hands of some of her neighbours. This resulted in her needing to move her house (literally, the timbers, walls and roofing iron) for the safety of herself and her remaining two children.

While she revealed a number of dark chapters in her life story, she also began to share a storyline of hope that God had been divinely writing in and through her life and ministry with MAF. You see it was through her work with MAF that Kathy was able to break free from the darkness of domestic violence and begin to see the light of God’s grace in her life. Kathy worked hard for her family, was assisted by some of the pilot families to move her home to a safer location, was able to send her children to school through her work with MAF and eventually send one of them off to University. She was even able to forgive the men who killed her son, and live peacefully with them, even though they never faced justice. Today, she’s underwriting her grandchildren’s education, by continuing to serve through the ministry of MAF in Telefomin. While MAF has definitely had a profound physical and spiritual impact on Kathy herself, I can’t help but think that the impact on her own children, and now grandchildren, has been even greater!

Story and Photos by Dave Rogers

Of all the flying I do in PNG, I find medevac flights the most rewarding. MAF flights benefit the communities we serve in many ways, but nothing has a more immediate and tangible impact than a medevac. They are usually some of the most operationally difficult flights to manage given they come up at short notice, in the middle of our flying program, and often late in the day when weather or daylight is an issue. This makes it all the more rewarding when you get it to work.

My most recent case was no different.

Goroka, our home base, from the air

 

I was making my first stop on my second trip in the middle of a busy day when I was approached by a man asking if I could fly a badly injured woman to Goroka. She had been hit in the head with a rock as a result of a community dispute and was in urgent need of a doctor.

The regular health worker was away in town, and they had no radio or cell phone reception to call for help.

I tried to use the aircraft HF radio to contact the base to discuss the situation, but due to poor coverage that day I couldn’t raise them. I didn’t want to try for too long given the urgency of the situation. I was going to be on my own in working out the best way to help.

The community didn’t have the means to help cover the costs of the transport, and the provincial government fund had run out of funding a few months back. In this case, I decided it was serious enough to make use of the dedicated MAF medevac fund – established by generous donors.

The only problem now was what to do about the almost full plane load of passengers and cargo I was due to drop at the next two airstrips. A quick look at the figures told me it wasn’t going to work to take any extra loading due to the take off penalties of the short strips I was headed to. i.e. I had enough room now but would be too heavy to get off the ground at the next stop.

My next thought was to see if I had enough fuel to make my next two stops, unload all the passengers and cargo as planned, and return for the woman. It’s typical for us to carry around 30 minutes of extra fuel (on top of the reserves already required by law) to allow us margin to deviate around unexpected weather. Because the weather was really good, I decided I could use this extra fuel to help me get back and make the extra stop.

I worked hard to get back to the community as quickly as possible, and when I got back there about 45 minutes later, I was glad I did. They had to carry the woman to the plane and she was barely conscious. I couldn’t get her to stand on the scale so I had to weigh both her and the carrier together and work out the difference.

Loading the injured woman into the plane at Simogu

 

I quickly completed the paperwork and shut everything up to get ready to start when I got a tap on the shoulder from the guardian who indicated she needed some water. I was about to give her my own when someone in the community ran to find a bottle. Now we were finally ready to get her on the way to the care she so desperately needed.

Once in the air, I sent a message to the base using our satellite tracker asking them to call for the ambulance so it would be ready when we landed.

My message to our base. I was obviously too busy to proofread!

 

They replied moments later saying they’d made the call, and sure enough, as I taxied in – there was the ambulance waiting for us.

We got her loaded in and sent her on her way and I continued with the rest of my busy day, satisfied in the knowledge we’d been able to change, and quite possibly save another life.

Moving the woman to the waiting ambulance

Story by Satish Moka. Photos by Satish Moka (SM) and Mathias Glass (MSG, cover photo)

The series of flights crisscrossing the country would eventually bring us back to our base at Mt Hagen only by about five o’ clock, the usual time for afternoon showers. Having been forewarned to prepare for an overnight stay, in the not so unlikely case of bad weather, I was ready for a packed schedule of flying with Pilot Mathias Glass. Flying in the co-pilot’s seat as an observer is part of MAF’s in-country introduction and training process to eventually transition to the left-hand side controls of the aircraft. So, on completion of the flight planning and associated paperwork, we got off to a delayed start, the last thing we wanted on such a packed day, because of some fuelling issues. 

Fairly confident of making up the forty minutes delay with few quick turnarounds, we headed off north to the village of Simbai. Descending down into the bowl surrounded by towering hills, Mathias skill-fully manoeuvred his plane along the narrow valley as I frantically searched for the elusive airstrip. As we came around a spur, I could finally see the narrow strip and I was wondering how we would be able to land, as we had quite some height to lose. Following the established procedure, the pilot turned the plane away from the airstrip and into the valley, losing height in the process. Creating space for himself he turned the plane around in the narrow valley and I was getting a glimpse of what true bush flying was. As we were perfectly positioned on short final, Mathias’ call, “Committed to land” indicated that it was a one-way strip and there was
no turning back from this point onwards. 

Simbai – with hills all around (SM)

We touched down smoothly and taxied uphill along the bumpy slope of this airstrip and managed to unload the passengers and the cargo of blankets and trade store goods. It was indeed a quick turnaround and I could see the smile of satisfaction on Mathias’ face as we had cut down our deficit by a good twenty minutes.

The lovely blue sky with puffs of cumulus made for perfect flying as we were headed out to the highland town of Goroka. Enroute, we had a rare glimpse of the majestic Mount Wilhelm, the tallest mountain in Papua New Guinea, normally covered in clouds. I was lost in awe, struck by the sheer rocky faces of these towering mountains, while Mathias was busy on the radio coordinating with another aircraft. We finally saw the tiny speck of white, red and blue crossing us at 9 o’ clock low; a fellow MAF plane from Goroka heading to Simbai. Now we could descend safely through the Asaro pass into the valley ahead. 

Stony face – Mt Wilhelm in the background (SM)

 

Preparing the aircraft for a casket meant the removal of two double seats and refitting a single seat after loading the casket. This reconfiguration work and delay by the passengers meant we were back to square one with respect to our time schedule. As often happens in such situations, we were further delayed on the ground because of other air traffic. No wonder, as soon as we were airborne and set for cruise, we were busy doing mental calculations about time in hand and options available. We worked out that we were still in a safe zone provided we had no further delays.

The weather was still holding and that was a good sign. The leg to Kawito would be the longest leg today and within half an hour we were flying over a blanket of white clouds. The HF call to our base gave us the information that the weather was good enough for landing at Kawito. As we approached closer, we picked up a hole in the cloud-layer, descended through it and finally got a glimpse of the Aramia River which flows next to the airstrip. We positioned the aircraft and landed at the grassy airstrip at Kawito to a big gathering of villagers prepared for the traditional mourning called “haus krai”. Unloading the casket to the wails of the mourners did not distract us from the primary work of refuelling and reconfiguring the aircraft. We did manage a very healthy turnaround at Kawito, courtesy of the smart work of the ground team led by Billy Melesa.

Unloading the casket at Kawito (SM)

 

We quickly got airborne again and stayed at two thousand feet below the layer of low clouds on our way up north to Kiunga. The fact that we had about fifteen knots of tailwind brought cheer to us as we flew above the lowlands of Western Province, whilst being acutely conscious of the headwinds that awaited us on our return trip. 

The lowlands are predominantly flat, with brown muddy rivers winding their way through the endless swamps and forests. Once in a while, a ribbon of red mud cuts through this carpet of green leading to a river, the dirt tracks created by the lumber industry, but not a single road – either paved or unpaved.

Tracks left by lumber industry (SM)

 

The clouds seemed more ominous as we approached Kiunga. It seemed even the weather wanted to add to our woes. We flew around the patches of rain and worked our way towards Kiunga, just to land before the heavens poured down. As if the weather wasn’t enough, the drivers of the fuel bowser were missing in action and this meant further delays. A small respite in the rain and we were energetically hand pumping out fuel into the plane, still hoping to make it in time. Rumginae based pilot Steve Eatwell was to accompany us back to Mt Hagen along with the passengers to Kawito. We made the most of the window offered by the rain and were soon airborne heading back to Kawito.

Rivers – vital for transportation (SM)

 

The return trip was a battle against the winds and clouds. We climbed up to five thousand feet which gave us lesser headwinds but we were forced back down to three thousand feet because of the clouds. The IFR (Instrument) pilot in me was beginning to understand the struggles of a VFR (Visual) pilot who needs to keep clear of clouds. Radio messages to Kawito, weather updates from Mt Hagen and our continuing mental math revealed that a thirty-minute turnaround at Kawito would still give us a safe window to fly back to Mt Hagen. A smooth touchdown on the grassy strip and I was all set for a quick departure. 

As we were slowing down, the composed voice of Mathias stating that we probably have a flat tyre was the first indication of an issue at hand, to a surprised me. He tried clearing the aircraft away from the runway. But when he shut down the engine we still had the plane’s tail jutting onto the runway. We quickly unloaded the plane with the help of some villagers. Using engine power and the now lighter condition, we managed to move the plane just clear of the runway, thus enabling another body charter to land on the field. Mathias’ quick thinking in keeping the airfield open is so essential in these parts of the world, as often the runway is the only link for any further rescue, even for our own aircraft. 

Having secured the plane for the night, as we walked along the airstrip towards the base, it was time for a hearty laugh at the turn of events. The unplanned end of today’s flying at Kawito meant that three MAF pilots would be spending an evening together (a rare occurrence in PNG because of the flying activity and dispersed locations over which MAF operates) with nothing to disturb, even cell phones. We experimented with our culinary skills to turn the little food we had into a proper meal and then had a near candlelit dinner (to avoid the swarms of lowland flies) before we retired to sleep after an exhausting day.

MAF plane parked off the runway giving safe space for other aircraft to land (SM)

 

 

The next morning, our rescue aircraft was in the form of an Airvan with Pilot Tim Neufeld, the ever dependable Engineer Lazarus Nuleya and the pleasant face of Reji Yosuvaraj, our Flight Scheduler and Logistics Officer making use of the available space in the Airvan. Having handed over the tools and the new tyre, the Airvan departed with Pilot Steve and leaving Lazarus with us for the repairs. 

Our new tyre arrives (SM)

 

The art of changing an airplane tyre at an airstrip I realised, amongst other things, also involves substantial spadework (literally). After a couple of hours in the lowland sun and with smears of grease and mud to prove our efforts, we had the plane ready with a brand new tyre. The ever-willing villagers were present all along and fetched us a few green coconuts even without having been asked. After a few hours in the sun, I must admit that it was the sweetest coconut I have ever had.

Spade, timber, jack and ingenuity (SM)

 

As Steve my pilot on “The Double Rescue Act” queried, “What is it with Satish and flat tyres?“

Read the story about the Double Rescue Act HERE.

Story by Ann Hallett, Director of Nursing & Midwifery Services at the Enga Baptist Health Services at Kompiam District Hospital. Photos by Ann Hallett (AH) and Mandy Glass (MG)

 

Thank you to MAF for being so willing to partner with Kompiam District Hospital to make outreach visits to the remotest parts of Papua New Guinea possible. Our recent visit to Malaumanda included a team of six, two medical students, our pastor, our dental technician, our midwife and myself. We were warmly welcomed by the people of Malaumanda. It is such a blessing to provide health care to a people who are so grateful to receive it. Enga Baptist Health Services vision is “Believing God and Serving Holistically.” This regular clinic flight initiative with MAF allows this vision to be expanded and fulfilled.

On the 31st of July, we were greeted by many people who live at Malaumanda. People from nearby continued to come well into the night and the next morning.

Many people welcomed the medical team at Malaumanda (MG)

Public Health Awareness and Immunisation

Public Health Awareness was given by Sr Anneth Pykali, Kompiam District Hospital Officer In Charge of the Maternal Child Health Program. This included discussing hand hygiene, general hygiene and Immunisation.

Sr Anneth Pykali, Kompiam District Hospital Officer In Charge for the Maternal Child Health Program (MG)

 

Receiving immunisation is valued by the people of Malaumanda. Measles is endemic in PNG. Vaccination levels are low, and there are regular outbreaks of this preventable disease. Ideally, immunisation for measles begins under the age of one year. Timely measles vaccination was given to 27 children under the age of one year. Catch up measles vaccinations were given to 135 people over the age of one year.

Two cooler boxes containing all sorts of vaccines, ready to be loaded to the MAF aircraft for (MG)

 

Tetanus boosters were given to 168 people. Tetanus is not spread from person to person and there is no protection through herd immunity. The bacteria are found in soil and human and animal faeces. The bacteria may contaminate puncture wounds such as animal bites, cuts, burns and complicated fractures. It’s the only vaccine-preventable disease that is infectious but not contagious.

Ann Hallett preparing for immunisation (AH)

 

Vitamin A is essential for eye health. Therefore, Vitamin A supplementation was given to 206 children.

Worms are also endemic in areas of Papua New Guinea. One of the most common side effects of worms is anaemia, thus worm tablets were given to 168 children.

On top of that, 135 routine immunisations for preventable diseases such as whooping cough, pertussis, diphtheria, tetanus and polio were given to children under one.

Dental Technician, Mr Peter Poko, and Pastor Lawa in-front of a health awareness poster (AH)

Antenatal Care

Ten women came for antenatal care. Five of these women were in their last four weeks of pregnancy. This was their first antenatal visit. Some had complications of pregnancy and were encouraged to come to Kompiam District Hospital for birth. There was space on the charter to bring one woman in her last two weeks of pregnancy with her seventh baby. She also was being treated for TB and had an extensive skin disease. All six of her previous baby’s were born at home.

The local Village Health Volunteer assisting with weighing babies at Mangua Clinic (AH)

The following week, after the clinic, one of these antenatal women, with a breech presentation came to sit at the Kompiam District Hospital’s waiting house. Women who had barriers to coming to Kompiam were given antiseptic, clean gauze, a pair of gloves and a sterile blade. The local Village Health Volunteer who is trained in the “Safe Motherhood Program,” was refreshed on the skills required for assisting mothers to birth their babies. Now that we know that there is a Village Health Volunteer at Malaumanda, on our next visit to Malaumanda with MAF, we will bring the birthing kits supplied by Birthing Kit Foundation Australia. They will be given to the Village Health Volunteer to assist with a clean and safe birth.

 

Medical and Spiritual Care

There were 110 other people seen for medical care. Common diseases included malaria, anaemia, malnutrition and skin disease.

Our Dental Technician, Mr Peter Poko, assisted many villagers with toothaches.

Dental Technician, Mr Peter Poko, with his pre-packed sterile dental kits (MG)

 

Mr Peter Poko assisting a villager with a toothache (AH)

 

Pastor Lawa spoke at length with the people of Malaumanda about the Christian faith. They chatted back and forth for some time in the evening and again the next day.

Pastor Lawa (AH)

 

The time of our visit was gone all too soon. As the plane landed the next morning we were finishing the last of the child health checks and immunisations. Women were asking for access to long-acting contraception. MAF pilots waited patiently whilst two women received access to an implant under their skin which provides five years of contraception.

Community members asked us to “please” stay two days next time and not to forget about them. We assured them we would not forget about them and their delightful welcome. It was a pleasure to provide health care to such a grateful community.

Happy encounter upon arrival at Malaumanda: Ann Hallett meeting a mother with her new born child whom she assisted a couple of months ago at Kompiam hospital (MG)