I arrive at work at 8:20am. I’m supposed to daily the plane first thing but instead I get side tracked by two Policemen guarding the business jet parked in front of our hangar.
Story by Jason Job, photos Balz Kubli
I introduce myself and chat for a while. The local Timorese people are always willing to chat with any “Malae” or foreigner willing to try to converse in their language, Tetun. After that, I wait for the phone to ring for any possible medevac flights and fill in the time reading through the new Operations Manual.
MAF in Timor-Leste work with the Ministry of Health to provide air transportation for critically ill patients, flying them by air to the National Hospital in Dili from the more remote regions of the country. The phone rings at 9:07am. The Ambulance service have called requesting a medevac of two patients from Suai, about a half hours flight to the south of Dili.
The other MAF Pilot, Daniel readies the plane while I submit a flight plan, check the weather report, notify authorities in Suai that we are coming, and generally prepare for the flight. At 9:34, I depart Dili airport in VH-MQO and climb to 5,500 feet, passing Mt. Ramelau, Timor-Leste’s highest peak of almost 10,000ft to the left.
Landing in Suai, I find the ambulance already waiting. We load a very sickly looking 20-month-old girl who sits on her parent’s lap for the trip. Also loaded is an 18-year-old male, who is unconscious while I strap him into the stretcher and hang up the IV drip.
'MAF Timor-Leste work with the Ministry of Health to provide air transportation for critically ill patients to the National Hospital in Dili'
Both patients are accompanied by family members and a medical staff member. We make the return journey back to Dili with no problems. I touch down at 11:02, around two hours since the call was received. There is now only a 20 minute ride via ambulance to the hospital for the patients. Typically, the trip from Suai to Dili would take 8-10 hours by road.
Before the ambulance departs for the hospital we give a “care pack” to a family member of each patient for their stay in hospital. These packs consist of some food, water, mobile phone credit, a copy of Mark’s Gospel in Tetun, and some toiletries. The contents vary slightly depending on who is receiving the packs. Each pack also contains a small card with a reminder that God loves them and the assurance that MAF staff are praying for them.
I go into the office to complete my post flight paperwork, and have some morning tea. I notice the Policemen are still sitting outside in the heat, so I go inside and make them some Timorese style coffee, strong black, with loads of sugar, and take it out to them. We stand around and chat for twenty minutes or so, after that. It’s always good to make friends.
More reading of the Operations Manual (it has around 470 pages) and a Vegemite scroll for lunch, before the Ambulance calls again. This time the patient is a 10 year old boy from Baucau (30 mins east of Dili) with severe head trauma from a motor vehicle accident. Most people here don’t wear seat belts in cars, and travelling in the tray of a truck or ute is also common.
Less than twenty minutes later, I am airborne again. The flight was rather straight forward. However when I returned to Dili this time, I was told that being the patient from Baucau had been air sick during the flight, so inside the plane was a bit of a mess and that I had another medevac flight now to Los Palos. It’s times like this when I’m glad we have extra help, another MAF pilot Daniel and a local Timorese employee, Aldo to work with.
I had to go into the office to submit another flight plan and do more paperwork while Daniel and Aldo refuelled the plane, cleaned up the mess and installed a clean stretcher. Two nurses were going to accompany us from Dili, but we could only take one because the take-off weight out of Los Palos was quite restricted due to the airstrip being quite boggy at one end. Aldo explained this to the nurses a bit better than I could in my broken Tetun.
'Working for MAF in Timor-Leste, no day is the same!.. Part of the challenge is to be prepared to serve Him in whatever a day presents!'
After a 32 minute turn around I was back in the air again for the 50 minute flight to the eastern end of the island. The patient this time was an old man. It was a smooth flight and we arrived back in Dili with two accompanying family members, at 5pm. We don’t always know what is wrong with the patients, even when we try reading the copy of the referrals that we keep in the office. They are usually written in Portuguese and in Doctor’s hand writing (this phenomenon crosses cultures apparently).
After landing I hear the Royal Australian Air Force RAAF Boeing 737 coming into Dili on the radio. We find out later that it has the Governor General of Australia, Peter Cosgrove on board to attend the celebrations surrounding the swearing in of Timor-Leste’s 6th President.
Working for MAF in Timor-Leste, no day is the same! This was a busy day for medevac flights, not every day is like this. Part of the challenge of working in this place is to be prepared to serve Him in whatever a day presents, whether that be showing love to policemen, cleaning out a messy plane or flying the plane to transport sick people to hospital. God requires our love for neighbours and diligence in our work whatever the task.