Airborne Ambos – Snake Bite!
Flying to more destinations than any airline, over 120 Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) aircraft in 30 countries deliver physical or spiritual care and hope to those living in isolation. The following story tells how MAF’s presence in Papua New Guinea saved a villager from certain death.
Seiye Wasakapi likes fish and fishing. But fish are not easy to find near Seiyes’s village of Dodomona in Papua New Guinea’s remote western highlands.
So he must walk about five hours through the bush to get to a good stream. One day he got up early, grabbed his fishing spear and headed off, hoping to return later that day with some fish for his family. It came perilously close to being Seiye’s last day alive on earth.
When he got to the river he went to his usual spot, but found no fish. As he walked along the shore towards another spot he felt a sudden pain in his foot. Looking down, he saw a death adder and knew he had been bitten. He knocked the snake off of his foot with a knife and killed it.
He was miles from home and all alone. He had to get back to the village, but would he make it? He prayed, “God if you want me to die, I’ll die. If you want to save me, save me.” The pain was excruciating and he became weaker and weaker from the effects of the venom’s neurotoxin with every step.
When he finally arrived back home he collapsed and lost consciousness. Unfortunately, Dodomona doesn’t have a health worker, but they do have a (CRMF) radio. One of the villagers called Rumginae for help.
There is a MAF base at Rumginae and a fully equipped hospital run by Pioneers International. The emergency call from Dodomona went through to Dr Mike Parsa who quickly organised with MAF to fly to the village.
“When I arrived, Seiye was unconscious and barely breathing,” Dr Mike recalls. “I was able to begin treating him with antivenom right there where he was lying on the grass. Then we loaded him on the plane and flew 40 minutes back to Rumginae where he eventually made a complete recovery.
“The next morning he didn’t even recognise me when I went in to check him. He only remembered waking up in the hospital, thankful to God for saving his life.”
Pilot Matt Painter said he was pleased to re-visit Dodomona some weeks later where he found Seiye alive and well.
“In my two years in PNG, I have not seen any other aircraft land at Dodomona, only MAF,” reports Matt. “We are their only link.”
MAF PNG utilises a fleet of aircraft capable of various utility roles, including the Twin Otter and Cessna 206, but Matt has a soft spot for the robust GA8 Airvan.
“The GA8 is brilliant for medevacs, because we can fit a stretcher patient in, and still have four passengers on board,” he explains. “You just can’t do that with the (Cessna) 206. Most medevacs come up when we are out and about, and with guidance from mission doctors we make decisions about what we can keep doing on our program, or what we need to drop off. The GA8 generally means we can get the best of both worlds. For example, I once landed in a place called Mougulu, where Rumginae Hospital has an aid post with trained health workers. On landing I was informed that a woman with twins was in labour, and had given birth to one baby, but the other baby was dead inside. She needed emergency surgery at Rumginae hospital, and we had her there in a little over an hour. With the GA8 I could lay her on a stretcher, keep four passengers and carry the woman’s newborn baby.”
Hidden dangers are associated with life in remote communities where there are no roads and few basic services. In such places, MAF is indeed a lifeline.
Footnote: MAF carries out at least 400 emergency medical flights each year in PNG. The high costs of these flights are often never fully recovered.
Name: Matt Painter
Title: Former Pilot, Mission Aviation Fellowship
Total Hours: 3,000-plus
Total Hours in GA8 Airvan: 700-plus
INTERVIEW WITH MATT PAINTER
What is the most satisfying part of your job?
Personally, I enjoy medevacs and flying church workers around. To me, this is ‘Flying for Life’ – the medevacs are clear cut lifesaving flights, the less glamorous health support work and education work keeps things running for everyday life for remote people, and supporting the church means lives eternally are saved in the big scheme of things. This is a big deal for me.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Cross cultural stuff – always working with people from a variety of cultures. There are over 800 people groups in PNG, and just in our Rumginae program we have six different cultures working together, but mainly it’s the differences between the Western world and Melanesian world.
Environmental – it’s hot, and sweaty, the hours are long and days are draining, normally 10 hours plus of go-go-go duty time.
Too much work – there’s always more work than you can poke a stick at. You get good at managing things, you do what you can, and that’s that. Our PNG programmer at Rumginae does a great job at filtering our work for us.
Changes – the flight plan changes so many times it’s not funny. They call PNG the ‘Land of the Unexpected’ for a reason. Go with the flow.
What advice would you give to pilots looking at working in this field?
If you’re a solid Christian pilot who believes God is calling you to use your gifts to work in a cross-cultural challenging situation, then get some good training like at ACMA and get into it. It’s a long road of preparation compared to your first charter job in Australia, let’s say, but all the steps are worthwhile and valuable. In a tough environment, you need to know God wants you in this spot – and remember it.