WABAG - Air Niugini’s beautiful bird of paradise which for decades have showcased our cultural diversity were shredded when the Dash 8 aircraft was burned to the ground in Mendi last week.
I cannot describe the emotions I feel when I see our nation al icons destroyed.
It is the same emotion that wells up in me when I encounter our carvings, paintings, music or meet Papua New Guineans in far off lands.
In 1989, I had such an experience as I flew on an Air Niugini airbus painted with a giant bird of paradise with its yellow plumage covering the entire fuselage of the aircaft like a satin dress as we headed north to Hong Kong.
I was already seated when I saw two young men enter the cabin and watched the air hostess direct them to their seats.
When I later met them I found they were Henry Kore and Nathan Kigloma – Air Niugini aircraft engineers on their way to Frankfurt in Germany to further their studies. I was on my way to Cardiff in Wales on a Thomson Foundation journalism scholarship.
Last week, my heart cried out for the pilots and crew when I saw images of the Air Niugini Dash 8 aircraft burn in Mendi even as the national court house and governor’s residence went up in flames.
The pilots and crew were doing their duty with smiles on their faces and making sure their passengers were safe and comfortable and enjoying their flight to Mendi.
They would soon welcome aboard new lot of passengers for the return flight to Port Moresby to join friends and families and conduct their bsiness.
But then high-powered guns were used to stop them in their racks.
Eyewitnesses told me that terror reigned that day as shooting, looting, screaming, confusion and chaos gripped Mendi as gun trotting rebels brought the town to its knees.
At that stage, they were unsure whether the pilot, crew and passengers had been harmed.
Red and yellow tongues of flames flared as dark clouds of black smoke streamed to all corners of Mendi Valley as if the whole town was burning.
Within minutes the news of the destruction spread.
A Facebook video reached 20,000 mark people almost instantly.
There were calls for the resignations of prime minister O’Neill, electoral commissioner Gamato and chief justice Injia.
The violence was triggered after Southern Highlands Governor, William Powi was affirmed in his position after the national court rejected a petition that he had been declared without all the votes being counted in the controversial and violent 2017 national elections.
But Air Niugini had nothing to do with the running of these elections, the court decision or the deep rooted corruption and vote-rigging that permeated the poll.
It’s hard for me to imagine how Henry Kigolma and Nathan Kore must have felt when they saw those pictures of the plane going up in smoke.
If it had been a mechanical problem, an aircraft engineer could have fixed it on the spot. But this was an aircraft deliberately set on fire – an aircraft in good shape to carry passengers to their destinations.
I had recorded in my book, ‘I Can See My Country Clearly Now’:
In the train, I wondered how Nathan Kigloma and Henry Kore, two Air Niugini aircraft engineers, were managing over in Frankfurt, West Germany. We had all left Port Moresby together on the same flight and met each other in Hong Kong.
I recalled how we had stood in the departure lounge of Hong Kong International Airport, one of the busiest in the world. We had spotted the lone Air Niugini airbus among the many much bigger airlines of the world.
“See how small and lonely it is among those jumbo jets,” I said.
“The only thing PNG has around here,” Henry Kore remarked. “When the airbus is gone, we will be all alone here.”
“But I will be the loneliest of the three of us,” I said. “You two will depend on each other but for me, I don’t know.”
At 10:30pm, the announcement came over the loudspeaker system for passengers travelling to London’s Gatwick Airport to board through Gate 14.
I went through the gate, then turned briefly to wave Henry and Nathan goodbye. They wished me luck and I was on my own.
In the huge British Airways Boeing 747, I thought of Henry and Nathan and of relatives and friends back home. Soon I was in the air flying further and further away from PNG.
Every passenger experiences these emotions as they take to the skies for business, study or pleasure.
After safely landing and waving goodbye to their passengers, pilots and crew prepare once again to welcome the next lot of passengers.
But not the pilots and crew on the Dash 8 service to Mendi last week.
They deserve an apology from prime minister Peter O’Neill and the people of the Southern Highlands.