Earthquake Response

MAF is currently involved in coordinated effort with other groups to provide earthquake relief and medical evacuations.

Personal account Mathias Glass. Pilot on the flight on 5. March to Muluma and Bosavi

MAF PNG 2016 10 1698 web

It was in the afternoon when we took off with a fully loaded Cessna Caravan (C208). On board: drinking water in plastic bottles, several bags of rice, tinned meat and fish, four rain catcher units, four bush toilets. The cargo was desperately needed, because the earthquake destroyed gardens, rivers which are normally used to get drinking water were contaminated, and landslides washed away the original bush toilets.

We departed Hagen in good weather and visibility, passed the second highest Mountain, Mt. Giluwe, and Mendi on the northern side and flew as direct as possible to our first destination Muluma. The usual afternoon clouds were already forming on the ridges of the southern Highlands, making navigation difficult. The radio were constantly chattering with several relief aircrafts and helicopters flying in and out of Moro, an airfield used as a hub for big aircrafts bringing supplies and small aircrafts and helicopter to take all the supplies to the earthquake shaken villages.

Because of time constraints we were not able to check out a lake which was forming in the Heggegio River valley as a result of landslides blocking the valley. The biggest fear is that the damn made out of dirt, rocks and logs will eventually give way toa big flood which will wash away everything close to the river banks. We needed to find a village which was reported close to the river and in possible danger of the flood. I spotted a very small village with two major landslides and possible loss of houses and lives close to the Heggegio river and made a mental note of the position. On our way back to Hagen, we will fly low level to get the coordinates of that village to set up a helicopter rescue mission.

Landing in Muluma was challenging, because the afternoon west winds picked up dramatically and caused turbulence and wind shear on the short final. The people in Muluma greeted us with relief. While Mandy was interviewing the village people, Luke and I unloaded the first half. I realised that the rain catcher units and bush toilets require some training in order to be set up. The system is simple, but requires some work from the people. Using the Melanessian way of explaining important things at least three times I made sure that the people standing close and watching understood how the setup works. The rain catcher consists of a small round tank with a tarpaulin attached to the lid. The tarpaulin is held up by wooden sticks at the four corners and catches the rain. A strainer in the middle of the tarpaulin releases the water into the tank. A tap at the bottom of the tank is used to fill buckets or other containers.

The bush toilets are made out of a steel drum with no top and bottom and a toilet seat on top. The steel drum needs to be put in a hole, which needs to be dug first with a roof out of banana leaf and bush material walls for privacy.

After just an 11 minute flight from Muluma we arrived overhead of Bosavi. Because of the strong crosswinds we were not sure if a landing could be attempted. We started an approach to check the lower winds and determined that it was safe to land.

The people in Bosavi shared similar stories as the people in Muluma. They were afraid that the old extinguished volcano Mt Bosavi would explode and wanted to flee to the north, right into the unstable area of the previous major earthquake. We urged them to stay where they are. We unloaded the food, water, rain catcher units and bush toilets and gave another lesson in how to set up the things.

Time was running out and we needed to fly back to Hagen, before the afternoon thunderstorms developed, making a flight under Visual Flight Rules hard work. We took off from Bosavi and attempted to find the village close to the Heggegio river, which we saw on the way to Muluma. This time we flew low level and made a low pass over the village. We could see several people waving at us and it looked like they have prepared a helicopter landing side. There was no clearing big enough for an airstrip so we circled again while Mandy took as many pictures as possible for later investigations. The village had two major landslides close to the village houses. It is impossible to tell if houses were taken down by the landslide. We quickly determined the coordinates and departed for Hagen. Flying through the area with several low level flying helicopters doing relief work was quite demanding. Huge cloud build ups made navigation challenging and the rain forced us to turn south of the ranges back to Hagen.

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