Satish Moka, a new MAF pilot and husband to MAF PNG’s new HR manager Sonali Ghosh, joined his wife and sons in Papua New Guinea. During his settling in period, he received a phone call which allowed him be part of a very unique double rescue mission – one technical and the other life-saving.
An unexpected opportunity
When I thought nothing unusual was happening in the land of the unexpected, which Papua New Guinea is often promoted as, a call from the flight scheduler and logistics officer, sent me scrambling to the base. There was an opportunity to jump on a plane for a flight that involved a double rescue act. The flight that day would carry on board an engineer to rescue a stranded MAF aircraft at Tsendiap and handle a medical evacuation from Tamo.
The well-oiled machinery of MAF had already swung into action. Steven Eatwell, a South African pilot, was getting the Cessna Caravan P2-MAF ready for the flight. The maintenance controller was galvanising the engineering team to address the tyre change on the GA8 Airvan stranded at Tsendiap. The ground team coordinated the loose ends and within a few minutes, the Caravan was airborne from Mt Hagen with engineer Lazarus Nuleya and me as an observer. Steven, the pilot, was soon negotiating the typical highland clouds that filled the Hagen valley and skilfully wove his way through the gaps and past the mountains into the valley, where the small grassy strip of Tsendiap was nestled.
Rescue of the stranded Airvan P2-MFM
Pilot Luke Newell, who was flying the Airvan P2-MFM on its last operational day, had experienced a tyre burst on landing. Luke expertly handled the situation and the Airvan was parked in the clearing. The airstrip, being a narrow one, needed all the skill of an experienced MAF pilot. Steven brought the Caravan to a stop, well clear of the aircraft already there on the ground. Lazarus was ready with his kit and was soon busy getting MFM back on its wheels for its last trip to Mt Hagen.
Rescue of a patient at Tamo
We were back navigating around the grey clouds. The endless evergreen forests stretched below us, interrupted only by the fast-flowing mountain rivers. As we negotiated around the last mountain range, it was a delightful sight to see a vast flat forested plain extending into the horizon.
Steven made the necessary radio calls and positioned the aircraft for a smooth touchdown on the grassy strip at Tamo.
The people stood well clear and in a disciplined row, but soon thronged the aircraft. The patient who fractured his shin bone was carried to the aircraft on a makeshift stretcher. After briefing the people about how to best and most comfortably transport the patient, Steven then prepared the aircraft. He dismantled two seats to make space, brought the stretcher out from the cargo pod and fixed the mattress onto the cabin floor using the harnesses.
Under the wing of the aircraft, the patient was transferred carefully onto the stretcher and Steven supervised the positioning into the cabin.
As this drama unfolded, it was time for the children of the village to inspect the “balus” (Tok Pisin for aircraft) and of course, the pilot and his new accomplice. As I was not yet acquainted with “Tok Pisin”, the local trade language, my communication was restricted to broad smiles and shaking hands in abundance. The importance of knowing “Tok Pisin” dawned on me as I saw Steven fluently passing instructions to the men who were helping him in the task. He chatted with the villagers and soon prepared the aircraft for its return trip to Mt Hagen. As Steven manned the aircraft, the well-tuned discipline of the villagers was again seen in action as they cleared the area and stood behind the fence in a neat line.
The late afternoon weather was ready to pose further challenges to the returning aircraft. It was a great opportunity for me to see first-hand decision making in weather avoidance, as I prepare for my flying, which will commence soon.
We found a hole of blue above the green pointed ridge line and squeezed in through the pass and back to the Hagen valley. We extended our downwind leg to cater for a local passenger flight and finally landed at Mt Hagen. There we entrusted the patient into the hands of our ground staff who were already waiting.
It was a joy to see Luke and the Airvan P2-MFM already on the ground back at Mt Hagen.
I watched our Rumginae-based pilot Steven supervise fuelling the aircraft for its next flight and pondered my first-hand experience. I realised that it was just another day in the life of MAF Papua New Guinea – where we are indeed “Flying for Life”!
Story by Satish Moka. Photos Satish Moka and Luke Newell