Report by Paul Beck, MAFUK

It’s every boy’s dream to fly in an aircraft. While MAF pilots can’t grant the wishes of every young man they come across, an obvious exception is made for those requiring emergency medical treatment! Jimi, a boy in
Kalimantan, Indonesia recently needed such assistance, after a bicycling accident resulted in a compound fracture on his ankle that could only be treated by surgery. Residents in his remote village had to travel by boat for thirty minutes just to reach the airstrip, where a MAF plane was ready to make the rest of the journey possible.


Such ‘medevacs’ are almost a daily occurrence for pilots in Kalimantan, but the stories don’t end with the arrival at a medical facility. The local MAF team are also renting a house near the hospital where the families of those they have medically evacuated can stay while their loved one receives treatment. This provides a further opportunity to shine and share about God’s love.

Jimi returned on a MAF flight a week later, still facing a lengthy recovery that may never reach 100%. “At least he’ll have the hope of being able to walk again, whereas without MAF, he wouldn’t have had any chance of that,” explains pilot Dave Forney. 


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By Judith Dupuis Paul Beck    


A cluster of villages along a tributary of the Nile River, Old Fangak in South Sudan is impossibly remote. Access is by river barge, which must negotiate a complex maze of channels, ponds and tributaries in order to bring supplies to the 35,000 inhabitants. Even then, supplies are only brought in for the few who have cash or anything of worth to trade. With little access to education or medical provision, life in the bush that surrounds Old Fangak centres upon one objective; survival.

In one small village next to the river there is an airstrip which MAF uses to being in medical supplies and workers. The importance of this lifeline is critical. In 2011, the surrounding communities suffered short-lived flooding followed by a period of drought. When the unusually small crops of sorghum came up, an infestation of rats devoured nearly everything, leaving the people in a desperate state. The airstrip is too short for the World Food Programme’s aircraft to land, so in partnership with Medair and the Alaska Sudan Medical Project, MAF flew in food supplements and medicine.

The incidence of snakebite victims and medical evacuations is more prevalent in Old Fangak than anywhere else that MAF aircraft serve in South Sudan. Snakebites are an ugly sight. MAF fly victims to Leer for treatment where Medicins Sans Frontieres operates a surgical hospital. In some cases, lives have only been saved through amputation of the bitten limbs. “I was struck by the stoicism of a nine year-old boy that we flew to Leer for treatment,” begins MAF Pilot Michael Dupuis. “The boy was smiling and in good spirits when he arrived with his mother at the aircraft. He had never been in an airplane before, although I am quite sure that he was one of the many children who greet the aircraft every time we land there. When we were lifting him into the aircraft, this boy’s foot was a putrefied mess of flesh falling off bone.

The blanket that he was carried in was covering this hideous sight from our other passengers and I wish that I had not seen this tragic affliction. Despite knowing that he would be losing part of his leg, he was still a boy excited to go flying and thinking about little else! I have carried several such snakebite victims and also provided a medical evacuation for a young man with a basketball-sized tumour on his knee.

Even one of the doctors serving in Old Fangak has needed to be flown out for medical reasons. Without the aircraft for transportation and without the care of so many dedicated medical teams working for MSF, Medair and Dr. Jill, the possibility for many of these people to physically survive would be nearly impossible,” Michael surmises.

Several other organisations serve the people of Old Fangak. MAF personnel draw strength from the fact that this includes groups like the the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, who are actively involved in evangelistic ministries. Taken together, this combined assistance is bringing hope in a place where it is in particularly short supply. 


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While doing my daily inspection at Kiunga in the Western Province (WP) of PNG, I received a call from the MAF Operations Manager in Mt Hagen for not one, but three patients needing medical evacuation to the Mt Hagen hospital from the rarely used airstrip at Erave.

Erave in the Southern Highlands Province (SHP) is like a lot of highland communities. Years ago the airstrip was heavily used, but recently it has been a bit forgotten. Many communities have let their airstrips close, since they, like Erave, have been blessed with a road.

Photo courtesy The National newspaper and the Provincial Disaster Committee 11/09/12    

But after two weeks of continuous heavy rain five bridges had been washed away or damaged beyond use on the only road link (below) into the Erave area, cutting off 100,000 people. **

The maintenance of the Erave airstrip had been hanging on by a thread really. They had cut just enough grass to keep it open in recent years. Most landings by MAF aircraft had only been for training purposes to give pilots a bad weather landing option in the notorious Southern Highlands region, where the weather can be particularly nasty.

I was going to fly to Mt Hagen, a 13⁄4 hour flight, to conduct training with other pilots, and I would be in the vicinity of Erave on the way.

So after the medevac call my flight plan was redirected to include Erave where I was able to pick up the three patients and fly them the 30 min flight to Mt. Hagen.

There was a lady, Frieda, with pregnancy complications and her husband Simon. She was probably a high risk case that needed transfer to a hospital BEFORE a real urgent medevac was necessary. Then a lady, Rose, with hand and arm knife wounds, with her guardian, and finally Luke, a man with a smashed knee cap wound from a tribal fight, who was brought to the plane in a wheelbarrow by his guardian, Pastor David.

Having a carer/guardian is important for ‘survival’ in most public hospitals in PNG as they have to provide the ‘care’ when no facilities for food, cooking, washing, or bedding are provided .

The GA8 turbo Airvan, P2-MKK donated by MAF Denmark, was a plane well suited for this job. Bigger than a Cessna 206, it carried a stretcher case (above), plus five seated passengers. Its turbocharged engine meant that I wasn’t concerned about the climb-out which is in close proximity to terrain on all sides. So this aircraft was ideal, and the relatively low cost of operating it, compared to our larger aircraft, meant that the cost of such a flight is more manageable for those with limited finances. 

In this case, the secretary of the Evangelical Church of PNG Health Services (ECPNGHS) in the SHP, Keith Kedekai, arranged for funding for the charter flight, with some additional local community contribution.

Communities often try to help with the cost of medevacs, but many cannot cope with the real cost of the flight, and MAF’s subsidised rates make all the difference. The church charter rate, which is very cheap thanks to our subsidy system fed by donors from around the world, means that these church health funds can cater for many more patient transfers and medevacs with the small amount of funding they have.

As we flew into Mt Hagen, Luke, with the knee injury, raised his eyes above the window sill to look out over the mountainous terrain. Years ago, the distance would have meant days and days of walking through dangerous country, dangerous for both terrain-related and possibly tribal-related reasons. Now, as he looked out, there was a road below, offering some means of connection. But the loss of just one bridge meant that once again the Erave people relied on MAF to be their lifeline in a time of need.

Bridge or no bridge, some cases are so urgent that flying is really the only way to get timely help. Nobody wants to drive on pot-holed, bumpy roads for hours when they have a shattered kneecap, or when just getting into a vehicle causes them to wince from their injuries. 

When they were all finally settled in the ambulance (bottom left ), they smiled at the news “You are now on the way to hospital.” Pastor David replied, “MAF balus I bin kam olgeta long Kiunga long kisim mipela, taim mipela singaut long redio!- The MAF plane came all the way from Kiunga to pick us up when we called out on the radio.” 

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MAF pilot Irwin Hodder, stationed in PNG, shares what a typical day might look like for him in this beautiful and unpredictable country.

“It is a typical day. I get up at 6.00 am, get ready and go to the airfield. It’s only 300 metres and I often think while I walk. Telefomin is so beautiful, but the roads are rocky and I tend to look at rocks and puddles. I remind myself to look up. This is God’s creation and I am surrounded by His magnificence.

“I arrive at the airfield by 7.00am and meet our other pilot. We get the Twin Otter ready doing our external and internal checks, while the ground staff are checking in our passengers.

“Our first flight is 15 mins to Tabubil. It is where we do most of our flying. Many people fly between the two places because it takes two days to walk there. There is no road, just a track.

“We take off and fly ‘over the hill’, the Hindenburg Wall. It is an impressive limestone wall and magnificent to fly over. Then we descend into steamy Tabubil at an elevation of 1600 ft. We take ‘trade store goods’, the normal things that most of us take for granted, like food stuffs and building materials for community groups.

“After Tabubil we take off for the isolated village of Tumolbil at about 5,500 ft. It is tricky to fly into because of the mountain beside Tumolbil. We climb to 12,500ft, then drop down into Tumolbil. They have no cash crop and no road so usually buy trade store goods and a few building materials. This time we have passengers.

Tumolbil Airstrip

“We take other passengers from Tumolbil back to Tabubil, then head up to Vanimo on the north coast of PNG. It’s about an hour’s flight, which is long for us. Normally we are up and down every 15-20 minutes.

“On the ground at Vanimo around 3.00pm we do the passenger and cargo manifests as we have no Vanimo agent at present. With the paperwork done we take off after about an hour. Normally the weather builds up in the afternoon but there are no problems getting back to Telefomin.

“It is still clear but I call Telefomin to give them our ETA. They give us the weather and tell us about a medical report from the ‘Haus Sik’ (hospital). We are asked to drop into Gubil on the way back. As it happens, it is directly beneath us. We don’t have much spare fuel, but enough for an extra landing, so I start the descent.

“The people aren’t expecting us. They called the Telefomin Haus Sik and asked for a medevac for a woman who was in trouble with labour, but the Haus Sik said ‘Can’t do’. ‘There are no planes here.’

“So the woman is destined to die or get a miracle from God. I think it is a miracle that we are just overhead, and within minutes are circling down to land. It’s just a bush strip so when they hear the plane they go to get the woman. But it is after 5.00pm and getting late, so we are rushing. It gets dark here early, around 6.30pm.

“The woman and her carer are boarded and we get airborne. Normally we follow up the Sepik valley and over the gorge at the end into the Telefomin valley. But we meet a wall of heavy rain. We could divert to another strip, but I doubt the woman would survive the night.

“We head up the valley climbing steeply to get above some cloud blocking the way ahead.  Rain is falling from higher cloud but finally we pop out into the clear. While still well before last light, the cloud and rain around Telefomin make it appear darker. My wife Gay, turns on the base lights which makes it easy to spot the airstrip and we land without a problem.

“Gay takes the woman to the Haus Sik. They are very experienced in midwifery, and the baby is delivered safely that night.

“Sometimes you think, ‘Where is God working?’ Then at times like this, you know there is no other explanation. Somebody would have been praying and He chose to intervene. He really is working.”


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MAF Pilot Dennis Bergstrazer reports:


“Soon after Christmas, I saw another type of gift that had been given, a gift of life to a little jungle girl, who normally would have died had it not been for someone who interceded.  A year ago I had flown a team of Indonesian pastors into a village called Pogapa, a forty minute flight over the mountain range from where we live in Timika.  A few months before a little girl had been born in an isolated village near there, a four hour hike from Pogapa,

“Tragically, when the helping ladies pushed out what they thought would be the placenta, it turned out to be a stillborn twin and the mom died within the hour.  The father, Aita Selagani the Village Chief, had two other wives but they refused to nurture the new born baby thinking they would only have enough milk to breastfeed their own babies. The new baby girl’s health deteriorated as her weight kept dropping eventually down to about 3 pounds.   With scabies and puss filled boils all over her body her father finally brought her to the church. There he met Pastor R Sumlang and confessed how the extended family had just met and decided to dump her in Kemabu River to put her out of misery, an all too familiar story of how those in desperate health and dying are taken care of.  By this time she had suffered severe malnutrition and was beyond the point where most babies could have survived. 

“It just happened to be the same time that I had flown the ministry team from a church in Jakarta to Pogapa.  They heard about the dying baby and one of the couples, Ramon and his wife Shandy, offered to take her back to Jakarta and nurse her back to health.  They provided the best medical care available in the country; the best formula money could buy, lavished her with love, and called her Deborah, the name her biological father gave her at birth. It was an uphill battle for Deborah and her new foster parents, who already had a family of three foster children as well as two of their own.  In spite of proper nutrition and extra care she only weighted 4 ½ pounds (2.25kg) after five months.  Her boils and scabies seemed incessant, but eventually the doses of scabicide, ointment and formulas helped.  She was a bit slow in her milestones like sitting, crawling, standing, and she barely started walking after her second birthday, 22 October 2012.

“Her foster parents said, ‘Despite slow progress and her small size, we’re glad to see a normal smile, giggles and a playful personality in Deborah. It’s going to be sometime until she can function as a normal child. Some functions may not even fully develop due to traumatic first year growth, but we pray with her everyday so she won’t miss out in discovering the meaning of life and how Jesus died for her to provide the wonderful plan of salvation.’

“When I flew two year-old Deborah back to Pogapa, she weighed a meager 18 pounds (9kg).  But, in spite of her small size, Deborah is now vibrant and full of life.  She is quite aware of her surroundings, and wasn’t all that impressed with my landing at Pogapa, of course I blame that on the roughness of the airstrip. 

“It would seem that the Lord brought together circumstances and worked in people’s hearts in such a way that helped Deborah survive.  Does He have a plan for her life, perhaps as significant as the Deborah we know from the Book of Judges?  Or perhaps the Lord has a work to accomplish in the lives of those who are touched by Deborah.  But, as we think of gift giving this year, let’s think about gifts that can change lives.  They may cost us more than money; like time, inconvenience, sleepless nights, and heartache, but the payback is beyond measure!”

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