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A little flying in New Guinea

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Papua New Guinea is an extraordinarily rugged and beautiful country located between the northern tip of Australia and the equator.
A land whose early economic development relied upon aviation, when climate, topography, and vegetation all conspired against road building.

It was my great privilege to be involved in both rural village development and aviation for a period before and after the country gained independence in 1975.

It is one of the most unforgiving environments in the world for small aircraft operating into several hundred short, sloping, often sub-standard and high altitude dirt strips hewn from the jungle.
Where rapidly deteriorating tropical weather conditions can block the only path of retreat from narrow valleys hemmed in by mountains up to 14000 feet high.

A place where the old flying adage applies;
There are old pilots. 
There are bold pilots. 
But there are no old, bold pilots.

The bush pilots life was often complicated by the amazing variety of cargo and passengers which needed transporting.

It would probably be unacceptable in most parts of the world today to load a tribal warrior dressed in full regalia, complete with 10 killing spears, 5 tomahawks, 4 wives, 3 chickens, 2 pigs, and possibly one partridge in a pear tree, into the cabin of a single engined Cessna 206.

And bulls.  Small cattle raising projects were being encouraged at the time in remote areas to provide both cash income and improved protein nutrition for the people.
Good quality young bulls were imported from Australia, and many were distributed in light aircraft, trussed, anaesthetised, and hopefully not waking up before reaching the destination.

And if anyone has in the last 30 years devised a foolproof easy method of loading a 44 gallon drum of kerosene into a Cessna 182, I would still like to know.

All PNG bush pilots have memories of dangerous situations and narrow escapes.  Incidents when only good fortune saved their lives. Often they will only relate these stories to other pilots, to avoid accusations of embellishing the truth which inevitably will result from telling others who have not shared the experience. 
Aviation experience in PNG needs no exaggeration.
Pilots are also able to recollect with satisfaction the times when they were occasionally able to perhaps save lives by evacuating the injured or critically ill villagers to medical care facilities in town.

Many also recall moments of sadness.  I write this in memory of my friend and work colleague Kati, who died much too young in a distant health clinic.  He lived his life working towards the dream of a better world for his children.  It was my responsibility to conduct his final flight.  With co-pilots seat removed, and his coffinless body in repose on the floor of the aircraft beside me, he was returned to his grieving relatives and friends in their remote village.

Village life in PNG was, and still is, simple, tough, raw, unforgiving and utterly basic and self sufficient.
The people have an extraordinary resilience in the face of adversity.

A skill which may well need to be learned by the rest of us at some point in the future. 

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About GOF

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

4 responses »

  1. Especially the prescient last words.

  2. Beautiful post. Blessings to your friend and his loved ones.

  3. Thank you m-t. It is comforting to me knowing that his children did indeed go on to live a better quality of life.


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