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Fred Kaad: 100 years of courage & achievement

Aviation could be unforgiving in PNG

3 Tabibuga on final
On final approach at Tabibuga in a Cessna 206. The strip was 1,250 feet long and its 8 degree slope required full throttle to get to the top after touch down


WARRADALE, SA - Flying in pre-GPS Papua New Guinea was certainly an unforgiving process.  I knew a number of people who did not survive it.

Harry Balfour-Ogilvy was a kiap in our intake in November 1965. He, his wife and two infant daughters all died in May 1970 when a dangerously overloaded plane took off from Gurney in Milne Bay.

From memory, it took about 8-10 days to find the wreck, even though it was only 10 minutes from take-off point.

Inspector John Collett, RPNGC, had his own plane. On transfer from Mt Hagen to Rabaul, he took off from Lae with his wife Nancy on board. They disappeared somewhere between Lae and New Britain and no trace was ever found.

I recall three incidents where I almost did not come back either.

One day I took off from Tabibuga in Jiwaka Province en route to Mt Hagen in a Talair Cessna 206 with a pilot who will remain un-named.

He took his eyes off the task at hand to draw me a picture of a building he wanted to put up somewhere. 

We both happened to look up at exactly the same second to see a Catholic Mission 206 en route from Mt Hagen to Madang at precisely our height and no more than 100 feet to one side of us.  Had we met head-on at 206 cruising speed, that would have been it.

On another occasion in 1974 in Mt Hagen, my wife and I decided to spend a weekend in Wewak, so organised three others to fill a Macair 206 charter and have a nice break on the coast.

On the Sunday at lunchtime, the pilot decided he wanted to leave immediately for Hagen as he feared a build-up of afternoon cloud.

After some discussion we agreed and set off.  Across the Sepik and into the mountains, he picked up the right river to follow (the Lai) but tracked it too far and found himself heading for Wabag instead of Mt Hagen.

The area came under Baiyer River control and I had worked in the region and walked all over it so I knew exactly where we were.

We ran into heavy cloud and the pilot spent some time circling trying to get through. I knew there were solid mountains in those clouds, and was about to tell him so, when he turned and followed the river back down.

He suddenly spotted a small bush strip and dived towards it, obviously going to land and ask where he was.

I screamed at him, "That's Lumis! Baiyer River is over there and Hagen is that way." 

Fortunately he listened, and we safely landed in Mt Hagen.  The pilot, a young fellow, jumped out of the plane quicker than I’d ever seen and ran into the terminal, I guess to find the toilet.

The third incident I recall was a flight from Wabag to Mt Hagen, also in 1974. 

It was about 4.30 in the afternoon in Wabag and three of us wanted to get back to Hagen that night.

The weather, although not flash, wasn't too bad and the pilot said, "If you want to come, I'll give it a go."

District Commissioner Bob Bell was on the strip and made it known there was no way he would get into a plane at that time.  Good advice, it turned out. 

About halfway to Mt Hagen, the clouds started really building up and the pilot did much circling looking for holes.  Then all of a sudden, complete white out. 

Anyone who has flown flew in PNG would understand the feeling. At 5.30 in the afternoon with rapidly failing light, clouds full of mountains and nothing to be seen but cloud. 

I was mentally calculating out how my wife would survive financially when I wasn't there anymore. 

Then a large miracle. A hole opened up and down we went into what turned out to be a good move.

We emerged from cloud over the top end of the Nebilyer Valley and made it back to Mt Hagen’s airport at Kagamuga with about 30 seconds to spare before darkness.

All part of the experience but, looking back, it doesn't really bear thinking about.


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Lindsay F Bond

Not only in the undulations of Managalas, Chris, even over flat lands of North-West Queensland, a pilot may be unfamiliar with visual clues. Near Gregory River and Doomagee, a pilot was gracious enough to heed my assertion as to location. In that expanse of terrain, clouds are dusty but less rocky.

Chris Overland

Jim Moore's article neatly illustrates the many perils associated with flying in PNG, especially in the days long before GPS systems and other useful navigational aids had appeared.

As well, it is clearly the case that modern aircraft are intrinsically more reliable than were some of the older aircraft upon which air travellers in pre-independence PNG had to rely.

Like most kiaps, I accumulated many hours as a passenger in the various mostly light aircraft that flew in PNG.

Navigation was based upon Visual Flight Rules, whereby it was up to the pilot to identify various landmarks as 'waypoints' to guide the journey safely to its intended destination.

For this reason, new pilots were required to undertake several check flights accompanied by an experienced pilot so that they learnt to find their way safely around their designated patch of PNG.

Despite this, errors in navigation were made from time to time, mostly without incident.

I vividly recall being on a flight between Popondetta and Afore with a new pilot.

We departed Girua airstrip without incident, climbed up over Mount Lamington and headed due east, roughly parallel to the coast.

I knew the country below quite well having both walked over a significant part of it and having overflown it many times.

So I knew that we had to turn in a more southerly direction at some point, flying up one of the many mountain valleys to reach Afore.

The trick was to choose the right valley.

It was therefore a surprise to me when we turned up a valley which I knew perfectly well did not lead to Afore.

I pointed this out to the pilot but he was quite dismissive of my observation, saying he knew what he was doing and, by inference, didn't need a nervous passenger telling him his job.

We proceeded up the wrong valley for a few minutes, its walls slowly closing in on us as it began to narrow.

The first hint of doubt began to appear on the pilot's face as he scanned the terrain below looking in vain for a landmark he recognised.

By now I was positively alarmed and I told him in no uncertain terms that I knew the country well and that we were destined to come to a sheer cliff face at the end of the valley and that he needed to turn back now.

Various emotions registered on his face before he seemed belatedly to realise that I might actually know what I was talking about.

Suddenly, just as the sheer wall ahead at the valley's end came into view, he threw the aircraft into a tight turn and brought it to a course back out of the valley.

By incredible good fortune we were in a Pilatus Porter that day, not the less capable Cessna 206 that was more typically used for the flight.

The Porter is a powerful turbo prop aircraft with VSTOL (Very Short Take Off and Landing) capabilities. When largely unladen, as it was on this day, it is capable of the quite violent manoeuvre that the pilot was required to execute to get us out of trouble.

We flew back down the valley in deathly silence, having had the bejeezus frightened out of us.

The rest of the flight was uneventful. The pilot located the correct valley that led to Afore and we landed safely.

No mention of the incident was made to those greeting us at the strip.

It was, in short, just another day at the office in PNG.

I flew out of Afore a few days later, this time with an experienced pilot whom I knew, and the trip to Popondetta was uneventful.

I never saw the other pilot again, nor do I know what became of him.

Philip Kai Morre

Keglsugl airstrip was closed down, however the former member for Kundiawa/Gembogl, Tobias Kulang, rebuilt the airstrip for eco-tourism especially those who want to climb Mt Wilhelm.

The airstrip will be open at any time. Its known to be the second highest airstrip in the world.

Garry Roche

Jim, I have heard your name but probably never met you.

The photo of Tabibuga airstrip brings back memories. I was based in Karap for twelve months in 1971-1972 (Kiaps Jack Edwards, Ken Logan, and Rod Cantlay were in Tabibuga at the time).

I remember being picked up at Tabibuga by the Catholic mission Cessna piloted by Larry Camilleri. On one occasion the end of the airstrip was covered in cloud and Larry still managed to land safely by coming in further up the strip!

One time the plane was bringing me to Madang and the pilot told me that he had to land at Keglsugl in Simbu to pick up vegetables. We flew out of the Jimi valley into the Simbu area and when the pilot said we would be landing soon I was looking out the window and could see no sign of an airstrip.

Then the pilot told me, “You won’t see the airstrip by looking down, rather look up!" And look up I did and there up ahead of us was the airstrip.” Keglsugl is located at and altitude of over eight thousand feet.

Apparently the first plane landed at Keglsugl in February 1939 and this plane, a Klemm named St Paulus, was still flying in Australia in recent times. There is a book by Pat Studdy Clift, entitled “The Incredible Klemm”.

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