Humanity stands at the cusp of catastrophe
The house Peter & Rose helped build

The story of Captain Sheriff: Pride of the Tribe

PNGDF cadet pilots after graduating from the RAAF Flight School, Point Cook, Australia, 1988. From left: Captain Ted Pakii (flight instructor), Chester Berobero, Major Kwadi (language instructor), Eric Aliawi and Peter Wanamp

| Ples Singsing

PORT MORESBY - Captain Peter Wanamp (‘Captain Sheriff’) Ansphil - a flag bearer for the Jiwaka people and the pride of Senglap tribe - was the first son of the Wahgi Valley to brush aside fear and become an aviator.

His breakthrough as the first person to become pilot from the province broke a barrier in becoming a pioneer pilot for the three ethnic groups, Jimi, Waghi and Kambia – from whose first two letters the name Jiwaka is formed.

Peter's parents were subsistence farmers and couldn’t have much input into Peter’s schooling in the 1970s.

But their son was determined and passionate, and set his goal on becoming a pilot, a dream fulfilled in the late 1980s after he joined the PNG Defence Force.

According to one of his school mates, Johnny, who was with him at Kerowil Community School and Minj High School in the late seventies, Peter brilliant at maths and came first in the Grade 10 national maths examination.

This top academic performance saw him accepted into an engineering course at the University of Technology in Lae.

However, he was to leave his university studies after passing a cadet pilot training entry test which took him to the Flying Training School of the Royal Australian Air Force at Point Cook in Victoria.

Here he joined fellow PNGDF cadet pilots Terry Togumagoma, Paul Paulo Boga, Eric Aliawi and Chester Berobero.

Back home, the news was circulating within our tribe.

My mum told me in our Jiwaka language: “Peter Wanamp na sukul ner balus ambral ner pum. Pi ner pore nim balus ambrim panim”. People are saying that Peter Wanamp who went to study to become a pilot is now flying a plane.

When l heard this l was pleased and scared. I imagined of myself at the top of a tree and taking in the view below and I imagined falling from such a height.

l was in class at school on the day when, at around 11 o'clock, there was a huge noise which shook the whole school and a twin-engine camouflaged PNGDF Caribou aircraft roared overhead, it seemed at tree top level.

The senior students were the first to rush outside, cheering and calling, ‘Peter Wanamp! Peter Wanamp!’

Some students and teachers were caught off guard while others bumped into each other in the melee of wanting to see what was going on.

Students jumped over desks trying to make their exit and the scraping of moving desks and benches was heard in every classroom as everyone tried to get out to glimpse the low flying Caribou.

When l got out myself, I saw that Peter flew very low over the school, following the infamous Binz River upstream to Binzkhu, his sacred home and hunting ground.

We stood in awe as the plane banked, avoiding Karaptoi peak. He was no stranger to the place.

Peter then flew over the small Banz township and pointed the nose of the Caribou towards Kagamuga airport as we followed his aircraft towards and over the horizon. Wow - what a sight for students and teachers that day.

l confirmed later that the story of Peter flying the army plane over his tribal area was true.

In the years that followed, whenever he flew to Mt Hagen, when he entered the Wahgi Valley he would fly low over our area, signalling that here was a boy from the valley.

When later he was flying Fokker 28 jet aircraft for Air Niugini, he did the same.

After the PNGDF, Peter worked for Islands Nation Air for some time and then moved on to Air Niugini as first officer on the F28 and then became a captain.

He took an overseas job with Skystar Airways, flying Boeing aircraft on international routes out of Bangkok in Thailand.

When his contract ended, he returned to Air Niugini, this time as captain of a Boeing 767, again on international routes.

During his career he also served as president of PNG National Airline Pilot Association and as chairman of Telikom during Sir Bill Skate’s term as prime minister from 1997.

He later flew with American Airlines and was based in the Philippines until his untimely death on 3 October 2013.

Peter's framed photo in chopper
Captain Paul Paulo Boga (left) in his helicopter with a framed photo of Peter. With him is Peter's former flight instructor Captain Ted Pakii

When the news of his death circulated it was a big blow to the Jiwaka people.

Peter (known to his buddies by his flying name, Peter ‘Sheriff’ Ansphil) was a popular figure amongst his fellow aviators.

On the professional pilots website, he was referred to as “a gentleman” and “a gentleman and a friend”.

But the tribe's pride lives on in the man who bore the Jiwaka flag. Angam - you are forever a sweet story on our lips.


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