The ups and downs of being an MAF pilot

The ups and downs of being an MAF pilot

Life as an MAF Pilot has its ups and downs. Literally. But also, for all the incredible stories of thousands of real lives helped thanks to MAF supporters, there are also tough times, sometimes heartaches. Jason Job experienced this when he flew what was MAF's first medical emergency flight to a newly opened airstrip at Viqueque in Timor-Leste.

Jason and Kim Job, MAF Timor Leste. Photo credit: Kim JobWritten by Kim Job, wife of MAF pilot Jason, Timor-Leste

We were having an afternoon rest when the phone call came. When the country director rings on Jason's day off, it usually means he is needed for work! A medevac call had come in for a patient in Viqueque.

While he got ready for work, with his uniform and pilot 'bling' (epaulettes, security pass, pen, calculator phone, food etc), I felt excitement welling inside of me.

Viqueque is a place that we've talked a lot about and seen in photographs. It is an airstrip that had opened only two weeks before. I was excited that after all the hard work and planning, the strip would finally be used to transport someone who really needed help.

Read about the airstrip opening at Viqueque

A matter of life and death

Everyone in the Job household was restless awaiting Jason's return. He was longer than expected arriving home from the medevac and I wondered why. The weather got bad, so I watched the plane on tracker arrive in Viqueque, depart and then dodge some bad weather before landing safely in Dili.

MAF GA8 Airvan lands at the newly opened airstrip at Viqueque, TImor-Leste

It was only when Jason arrived home that I discovered things did not go as we had hoped. Sadly, the patient, a young mother who had just given birth, had died in flight.

Her husband and another family member were on board, along with the new-born baby and a nurse. After childbirth, things had not progressed normally for this young woman and she passed away due to severe blood loss. A baby is now without a mother. A husband has now lost his wife.

Reflections and questions

As a pilot, Jason questioned if he could have done anything differently. Did he take too long to get to the airport? Did he take too long getting ready? The answer was no. The young mother was simply too ill to endure the flight to town.

Passengers dying is a hard part of the job here, something Jason and I hadn't had to deal with before. We know the power over life and death is in God's hands, and that He is in control over the time that life begins and ends.

We know as pilots the service they provide dramatically increases the chance of survival and health for the patient. They reach medical care so much more quickly by air than by road. But as humans, we mourn with those who mourn. Lives cut short, possibly due to causes that would not be life threatening if the patient lived near a major hospital, are always tragically sad.

As missionaries we like to write about the success stories (physically or spiritually) on the mission field and in our personal lives. We want to be seen as the type of missionaries that we envisioned as kids, or that you read about in missionary magazines. We don't often share the hardships, the struggles, the failures.

I think we need to be more real and honest about life on the field. That's why you are reading this. it's not emotionally uplifting, but it's part of our life here. What matters is the question: 'Are we being obedient to the call of God on our lives?'

A successful MAF medevac from Viqueque

Hope and a future

A few weeks later, the last medevac of 2015, the same aircraft carried another medevac patient from Viqueque, this time with a happier ending.

The flight marked the end of busiest year so far for the Timor-Leste team with 201 medevac flights carrying 261 patients.

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Extra: Viqueque's day of celebration

On the day of the airstrip opening ceremony, locals and dignitaries had thronged the airstrip to cut the ribbon and joyfully mark the opening. Timor Leste is a tiny country with less than 1.3 million inhabitants. Viqueque is only the eighth airstrip in the whole of country. The event had drawn a crowd of excited onlookers.

Jason had flown in especially for the occasion in one of MAF's two GA8 Airvans, along with Programme Manager Jonathan Lowe.

The Police Commander and other dignitaries all took the opportunity to enjoy a short flight around Viqueque. The presence of the Vice Minister of Health in particular was a sign of the airstrip's likely significance. For many flying out from there in years to come, it will be a lifeline.

Viqueque airstrip opening celebrations - MAF