Tim Neufeld behind the controls of the Cessna Caravan
Photo by Mandy Glass

Goroka-based pilot Tim Neufeld shares some of the rewarding and challenging aspects of a couple of days flying in Western Province, while providing life-changing services. 

Recently I had a sequence of flights that epitomized the challenges of people living in remote Papua New Guinea, and the intensity that flying in the country brings. It started on Monday when I was planning to overnight at our base in Balimo, Western Province. As I was finishing up my planned flights for the day, a message came through to divert to Daru, pick up a stock of medicine, and fly it up to another town across 400km of jungle - the provincial hospital there was out of medicine! It meant that I spent the night in the north of the province.

Boxes with medical supplies stacked up after delivering at a remote airstrip, a lot of bystanders watching
Photo by Tim Neufeld

The next day, I went back down south and flew a health patrol team into another remote village. As I was flying back into the highlands towards home, two requests came through: one to get some folks flown out who couldn’t land the day previous due to rain, and then a medevac for a lady with a maternal health emergency. 

It was a miracle that the weather opened up for her to be flown out that afternoon.
Tim Neufeld, pilot

It was now late in the day, huge thunderstorms were growing, and I had two high pressure flight segments; everything was adding up. I said afterwards that it felt like a scenario the training department would dream up to see how far they could challenge a pilot’s threat management (something MAF spends a lot of time training!).

I was able to navigate all of the weather and mountains to complete the flight.

low clouds and bad visibility over swampy Western Province
Photo by Tajs Jespersen

The airstrip with the medevac patient is notorious for having very strong afternoon winds... on this afternoon, it was completely calm. Despite the horrid black clouds that were forming, the weather cleared by late afternoon, to the point where I saw mountain tops that have never been visible in the afternoon in the five years, I’ve flown by them. 

The 17-year-old girl who I flew to hospital was in a critical state; the baby had already died. It was a miracle that the weather opened up for her to be flown out that afternoon. We pray that the miracle continues through to her care and recovery at the government hospital in Goroka.