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Siwea airstrip, Papua New Guinea

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This story is to jog the memory of all the old PNG pilots who will never forget Siwea.

It is also for all the arriving passengers who, during the final landing approach (when most of the airfield disappeared from view because of a steep uphill landing threshhold) were terrified and thought they were going to die.
Departing passengers too, whilst falling over the edge and dropping down into the Tewae gorge to gain flying speed with the Cessna stall-warning horn blaring, were also tricked into thinking that the future looked rather bleak.

To my knowledge the only person who ever did die in an aviation-related accident at Siwea was a pedestrian who was struck by the propeller of a landing aircraft.

The Siwea ‘strip was constructed circa 1970 by villagers using shovels to dig back into the mountain. It was 1500 feet in length at almost 6000 feet altitude which severely limited the performance of most light aircraft. The ‘runway’ surface was nominally grass but often just mud, and the airstrip provided an outlet for smallholder-grown arabica coffee, strawberries, onions and other fruit and vegetables.

Siwea was, in 2011, no longer an operational airfield.

(Photographs taken by Mrs GOF, 2011)

Siwea airstrip, view from the landing threshhold.

Siwea airstrip, view during landing roll.

Siwea airstrip showing total length in takeoff direction.

Siwea airstrip showing direction of takeoff and the typical weather conditions which made in unusable after 10 am on most days.

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"Life is like a sewer. What you get out of it, depends upon what you put into it." (Tom Lehrer)

25 responses »

  1. Most urban-trained pilots would never know the “joy” of takeoffs/landings on such a strip. The closest I’ve come to this is a red gravel strip down in Collie where the wheels left a trail of red dust.

    PNG pilots I reckon could fly anywhere because they were used to these conditions.

    Great stuff GOF!

    Reply
    • Thanks Ninja, it certainly was a unique flying experience.
      I first flew into Siwea with only 70 hrs private-pilot hours under my belt shortly after I’d got hold of the old C182….as PPL training really didn’t give much preparation for dodgy ‘strips like Siwea I asked my instructor to come along and check me in, as was normal commercial pilot practise…..his response “you have to be joking, go and do it yourself”.

      Reply
  2. All I can say is “Unbelievable!”.
    I can imagine dropping off that edge with the stall horn blaring….what an adrenaline rush. No roller coasters needed. A change of undergarments might be, however.
    Great pics, Mrs. GOF!

    Reply
  3. It occurs to me that only a young man would take on such a thing. Older folks and women are more likely to go, erm, me? Nah. I may be overly-crediting my sex.

    Reply
    • After I replied to Ninja I realised I should have mentioned that there is a thin line between youthful confidence and youthful stupidity……perhaps that difference only comes down to good luck. I was blessed…..and no, I don’t think your are overly-crediting feminine sensibility.

      Reply
  4. That’s not an airstrip, that’s a donkey cart trail!

    Seriously, GOF, I’ve heard bush pilots in Alaska boasting of landing in some dodgy places, but that airstrip looks scary to land on and scarier to take off of. No wonder hurricaines don’t faze you!

    Reply
    • Most PNG bush airstrips also served as donkey tracks, motor bike rally tracks, pedestrian thoroughfares, sing-sing grounds and golf courses HG……..it’s much more scary for the passengers…….flight training in PNG prepared pilots very well for most of the challenges that these ‘strips presented…….oh, and cyclones still scare the hell outta me.

      Reply
  5. You’re a gamer man than I am, GOF Din. I was thirty before I ever ventured on to a plane. Took me another 15 years to venture on to one again.

    Reply
    • Youthful confidence Snowy…..I don’t know whatever happened, but mine seems to have disappeared over the years. I only did this stuff so I could more effectively do my village rural development work in PNG…..I was 26 when I decided to get a Pilots
      Licence….prior to that I had no interest in aviation at all.

      Reply
  6. I’m not a pilot, but that sounds like a major adrenalin rush to me, and I’d probably enjoy it as a passenger. But I guess now I’m too late… Oh well.
    Thanks for liking my post “First Date Life and Death Adventure”. Did you really read all that? If you did, then you deserve a medal! Lol

    Reply
    • There are still plenty of airstrips like this in PNG Chris, and probably some closer to your home which would give you a similar adrenalin rush.

      Yes, I really did read all your post, but I ran out of solar power before I could comment so I will return when the sun shines upon me again.

      Reply
  7. Reblogged this on 1petermcc's Blog and commented:
    Flying with GOF. Plug this in to your flight sim.

    Reply
  8. I’m reblogging this GOF. It’s a great example of how “interesting” life could be in the “Good Ol’ Days.”

    Reply
  9. Looks a little scary …. as I’ve said before I really enjoy your PNG stories.

    Reply
    • Thanks Emjay for your continuing support for my PNG stories…..I hope they reflect favorably on Australia’s colonial presence there.

      Reply

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