Island Medevac in Timor-Leste

Island Medevac in Timor-Leste

Living life waiting for the phone to ring is a big part of a pilot’s life in Timor-Leste. Even on public holidays, birthdays and Christmas Day, a pilot and a hangar assistant are ready and waiting for a call.

On Saturday, the 15th December, it was Jason Job who was the rostered pilot. While the family relaxed after eating breakfast, they discussed what to do with the day.

Story by Kim Job. Photos by Balz Kubli and Jason Job.

Nothing had been decided about the day’s plans when the phone rang requesting a medevac flight from the nearby island of Atauro. 

The whirlwind of flight preparation began as Jason put on his uniform and entered a flight plan. His wife quickly threw some food into a lunchbox for him to take with him and off to the airport he went on his motorbike.

'The joy of knowing a critically injured man has been helped to reach more advanced medical care keeps the pilots flying despite the difficult circumstances.' Kim Job

Atauro Island is just a fifteen-minute flight from the capital city Dili but today, the wet season weather proved challenging. Thankfully Jason landed without too much difficulty and was soon waiting at the airstrip for the patient to arrive. The medical staff are often unwilling to put the patient into the ambulance until their symptoms have been stabilised so it took twenty minutes for the ambulance to arrive.

The patient was a man in his twenties who had sustained a severe head trauma falling from a tree. He was conscious and his heavily bandaged head covered the injuries. Accompanying the medevac patient were two members of his family and two nurses who would care for the man during the flight.

Injuries caused by falls from trees are a common reason for medevacs. At this time of year mangoes are in season and throughout the country and men and children can often be seen high up in the branches collecting the fruit. Coconut trees are also climbed to access the fruit, which grows many meters from the ground.

The windy conditions made the take off more challenging and the flight a little bumpier than usual. Jason was reminded of how important the airstrip is for the people of Atauro. 

Prior to it’s opening four years ago, critically ill and injured people were transported by an ambulance boat to the mainland, a journey of approximately two hours in good weather. But in these windy conditions, the boats cannot cross, and the patient would have had to remain on the island where medical care is limited to a small clinic. 

Living life on call waiting for the phone to ring is challenging for the MAF Timor-Leste pilots in many ways. But the joy of knowing a critically injured man has been helped to reach Dili where x-ray machines, operating theatres and more advanced medical care await him, keeps the pilots flying despite the difficult circumstances and challenging weather.

'Living life waiting for the phone to ring is a big part of a pilot’s life in Timor-Leste! A pilot is on call every day of every year during daylight hours, ready to respond to the request for a medevac flight.' Kim Job