It was around 11am on Saturday 3rd February, when Luke knocked on my door asking, 'Would you like to go flying today?' - Who would ever say no to this question!
It turned out that there was a medevac flight that Luke had just heard about from Sharlene Coker, MAF PNG’s Flight Operations Coordinator. I just had enough time to grab something for lunch, a bottle of water and my camera, and off we went to the airport. Nawi Mabo, MAF PNG’s Ground Operations Training Coordinator, was at the base that morning and decided, as there was space available, to also jump on this medevac mission taking him to his home province and doing what he loves to do: assisting people in despair.
Once weight and balance were done and the aircraft had been checked, refuelled and loaded, we took off. About an hour after Luke received the call for help, we were airborne.
The call for help came from our ground crew at Kawito. A woman at Balimo was expected to have a breech birth. Breech birth means that the child is wrongly positioned inside the mother’s womb. This causes the umbilical cord to compress before the child’s head is born, which leads to an oxygen shortage during birth. The risk for the child to die during birth or being handicapped for the rest of it's life is considerable.
The weather was perfect, visibility was very good and there were no thick layers of clouds at all. However, we experienced quite a bit of headwind, up to 36 knots, so it took us a fair bit longer than usual to get from Mt Hagen to Kawito, a total of 71 minutes.
Once we had landed, we started refuelling the Caravan for our return trip to Mt Hagen. Just as we finished refuelling, the patient, Opepeyato, was carried to the plane on a stretcher laying on a bamboo mat.
Opepeyato and her husband, Noka, plus three other women, who also needed further medical assistance than what the Balimo hospital was able to provide, had been sent to Kawito by boat to fetch the MAF medical evacuation flight as Balimo airstrip isn’t safe for operations at the moment.
When all were on board, Luke did the safety briefing and off we flew.
Our destination was Daru, where Opepeyato would be able to be taken to the Provincial Hospital to receive specialist care. There were no problems on our flight to Daru, and we were able to land there just about half an hour after we had taken off from Kawito.
Once the engine was shut down, all luggage was unloaded and Opepeyato was carefully lifted out of the aircraft and taken to the airport building.
Unfortunately, there was no ambulance to pick her up. 'Quite usual for Daru and quite usual for everywhere, actually,' Luke said. Fortunately, there were a lot of people waiting to pick up passengers from a PNG plane that landed just a few minutes after us. Thanks to Nawi’s local connections we found some people who agreed on taking Opepeyato to the hospital on the back of their pickup truck. They charged about K20.00, but still, that’s way better than no transport at all.
Once we had lifted Opepeyato onto the back of the truck and she and her companions had left the airport, we flew back to Hagen.
Daru – Mt Hagen is quite a distance, more than 200 nautical miles. We were pleased that we had refuelled on our stop in Kawito, as this saved us about 40 minutes on the return flight to Hagen. As to be expected in the afternoon, the weather changed and more clouds started to build up, but Luke managed to manoeuvre us home and we landed safely in Mt. Hagen just a few minutes before a huge downpour started.
It was a fantastic afternoon! I got to fly in an aircraft, saw PNG from a different perspective and, last but definitely not least, I got to witness MAF’s impact literally from a front row seat. It was and still is very encouraging to see how we as MAF are helping people in difficult situations, every single day.