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.
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.
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!
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.
We could safely take off and return to Mt Hagen without any further issues.
Behind the Scenes: At MAF Headquarters
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!
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.
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.“