We hope you enjoyed the story about the Oksapmin Secondary School in the remote village of Tekin and how the year 11 students have been writing about “What comes and goes on a MAF plane.”
Here is the link to the article.
Today’s second part continues with the dialogue exercise and focusses on the student’s memories of medevacs out of Tekin and quite interesting “speculations” what actually drives our MAF pilots to land at such remote airstrips like theirs
Part 2: Emergencies Remembered and Pilots’ Motivations Imagined
MAF aircraft in PNG flew 210 medical evacuation flights in 2019, but actually transported 375 critically ill persons to the hospital. Tekin, where the Oksapmin Secondary School is located, only has a small health clinic. Critically ill patients have to be referred to better-equipped hospitals in the province, such as the Telefomin District Hospital, the Provincial Hospital in Vanimo, or others.
Part of the dialogue exercise for the grade 11 students was prompting the students to remember such an emergency:
“Do you remember any times when MAF has come to help in an emergency?”
Betina: My brother broke his arm while playing soccer. He was put on a stretcher and carried up to the airstrip. When the plane arrived he was put on the plane and was flown off to Wewak. This was because in here the health centres cannot treat this kind of emergency situation. After a month he came back. I saw his broken arm was cemented and bandaged.
Momai: I remember when my mother had an internal sickness so she was sent to Tabubil hospital on a small MAF Caravan. She went into a surgery section where they operated on her carefully. Then the doctors found that she had an immense sore in her lung. Eventually, the doctors treated her properly and she became well.
Megaden: I remember when our tribesman cut his wife on both sides of her leg last month. It was so terrible. The Oksapmin High School truck helped to carry the patient down to the Oksapmin clinic. From there the MAF Caravan took her to Wewak for Wewak hospital for further check and operation.
Inox: I remember when MAF took Miss Glenda Giles to Kudjip General Hospital when she was infected with malaria and after a week she was recovered so she returned to Tekin and also Mr. Y., ward member for Tomianap, when he had a problem with his kidney they sent him to Port Moresby General Hospital.
Julipah: I was in Sisimin Primary School doing my grade five. I got Malaria so an agent contacted the captain and they took me to Tabubil General Hospital and after three weeks I came back to Sisimin again.
Dipo: I remember when Mr. E. who is the current headmaster for Tomianap Primary School was badly injured by a poisonous snake. He was carried by the village men to the airstrip and the MAF plane took him to the Kudjip General Hospital near Mt Hagen. After two weeks of treatment, he returned home by MAF again.
Some of these stories might be a mix of various events and contain some twisted details, but some might have happened just like that. Nevertheless, they all illustrate the remoteness of the valley and the few options the people have when they are seriously ill, but even more, show the life-saving impact our MAF flights have.
COVID-19’s Impact on the Need for Medevacs
Air travel in and out of Tekin has been challenging during these past few months because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions enforced by the Papua New Guinea government to protect its people. Schools were suspended for almost 6 weeks and so were domestic flights crossing provincial borders. A day before the COVID-19 related restrictions, MAF PNG did temporarily shut down operations after an aircraft accident to re-assess our operations and in particular the conditions of the remote airstrips we fly to. Consequently, all airstrips were closed for our operations and listed to being surveyed. Tekin’s turn for the survey was sometime in mid-May, just a few days before the dialogue exercise. The community looks after their airstrip well and the airstrip passed MAF’s and RAA’s (Rural Airstrip Agency) risk assessment.
“Tekin airstrip was opened for MAF passenger flight operations on Friday, 5th June, so today I was happy to fly out to Wewak on the coast after five months inland,” posted Glenda on social media a couple of days later.
“It’s so good to have MAF back in the air. We managed OK but the loss of medevacs hit hard. We lost a student who was at home in Bimin during the school closure. Just an infected foot but he died. His father, in grief, attempted suicide but the tree branch broke and he sustained a severe back injury. They carried him to Bak but no medevac. Think of the stories we don’t know about because of no communication.”
This is heartbreaking to read and to know. How many more untold stories are out there of people who are even more isolated due to COVID-19 restrictions?
Meanwhile, restrictions are lifted. MAF is flying again, with limited personal resources though. Since the start of the COVID-19 situation in March, five MAF pilots have had to leave PNG for various reasons (e.g. medical, home assignment, etc.) and only one has been able to return. There are only eight pilots currently in PNG, less than half of what is required for our normal operations.
Ryan and Siobhain Cole, a pilot family based “down the road from Tekin” is desperate to return PNG after their home assignment which turned out to be much longer than planned because of COVID-19. We all hope and pray that they will arrive in August. A few weeks ago they wrote in their newsletter: “We are extremely keen to return to PNG because there are no pilots currently flying out of our home base of Telefomin, so that area is getting very little help.”
The dialogue exercise finishes with that final question: What drives our MAF pilots to serve and fly in Papua New Guinea to places like Tekin? Some students had quite interesting ideas on this last trigger point of the dialogue.
“Why do you think those pilots keep coming?”
Ireck: They do it because the MAF company operates under the mission aim. Therefore MAF is willing to come here. This airstrip was made by Christians who came here first with God’s word for us. MAF always helps the remote places around the world like here at Tekin.
Jenitta: We don’t have very good access to hospitals for medicine supply and there are no roads for land transport and no sea for transport to make our life easier, so only air transport can make our life easier. They bring goods and services to our place so that people can survive. That’s why the plane will come in and go out because of these things that will really need to improve our lives.
Jaysina: I think they do it because of the emergency call that is made by the people. They risk our one-way strip to give us services like getting goods and pastors and it makes it easy for us to travel to other places in our province for education. Even though we are remote the pilots are meeting our needs.
Dipo: They do it because they will earn more income than those who fly in and out of the towns and cities. They like to fly through the rugged, mountains and valleys. Another thing is that they want to see the beautiful mountains and the forest in our place that is blessed by God.
Ken: They do it because the pilots want to make money circulate and other places need our vegetables. Furthermore, some of our businessmen want to make money by chartering the plane to come here. Therefore pilots keep coming into this remote area. This brings good opportunities for our people to have cash flow. Otherwise, we remain as primitive people who do not know about God.
Stay tuned for part 3, a pilot’s perspective on the final dialogue question.