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PNG Ples Bilong Tok Tok

Old 9th Jun 2011, 20:18
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why don't you post the whole thing here? It was just getting exciting...
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Old 9th Jun 2011, 21:18
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Yes Fantome... keep going; it's been quiet here for a while and a warrie is always popular.
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Old 9th Jun 2011, 22:37
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Very early one lousy, cloudy morning, in a Baron laden to the hilt with freshly killed beef, I was in a circling climb on the Ramu side of the Bena Gap looking for a hole in the cloud, big enough to dart through into the Goroka valley. There was a lot of cloud about on the mountains, though the Ramu valley was completely clear. One morning every week we’d fly into Dumpu cattle station, owned and pioneered by Bruce and Barbara Jephcott, for a load of beef, slaughtered the night before. In the cool of the morning, with the climb to 10,000 feet, refrigeration was taken care of.

There were few aircraft about at that time. All was quiet on the air waves till Madang called to advise me that a Cessna 206 was unreported on arrival at Kegl Sugl, a Catholic mission station at 8000 feet on the eastern slopes of Mount Wilhelm (14,783 ft). That mountain, the tallest in the Territory of New Guinea, was about 50 kilometres from where I was making my circling climb. Madang requested that I overfly the mission station at Kegl Sugl and advise whether or not the Cessna was on the airstrip. Early morning radio blackouts were common. ‘Safe landing’ reports from pilots were sometimes lost in the ether.
There was nothing unusual about the request, so I leveled the wings and scudded off up the Ramu Valley towards Mt Wilhelm and the Bundi Gap. Heavily laden as the Baron was, coupled with the rising storm clouds, it took some time to climb to over 15,000 feet and fly across the Bismarck range, to where for only a few seconds, it was possible to sight the mission station through the clouds and report that there was no sign of the Cessna on the strip.
The pilot, Father Joe Walachy, an American priest of Divine Word Mission, had been flying from Madang since the end of the Second World War. He was well known to me. Father Joe had probably made more trips into that area from Madang, than any man living. Had he not been able to get through the weather, which was quite bad, he would have returned to Madang or diverted to another landing place, there to await a clearing of the weather before attempting another try for Kegl Sugl. By the state of the weather on the mountains, I could see that he would have returned to Madang if that had been the case.
Through an exchange of radio calls it was learned that the last progress report received from him stated that he was climbing above 10,000 feet outside the Bundi Gap and expected to arrive at Kegl Sugl ten minutes later. More than thirty minutes had elapsed since that report. A full-scale search was called up for Father Joe and his brand new Cessna 206, for it was then obvious that he was in serious trouble.
The weather on the Wahgi Valley side of the Bismarcks was clear. The task allotted me by the searchmaster, that I knew would be a sheer waste of time, was to comb the heights of the rugged shoulders of Mount Wilhelm above 12,000 feet. In clear weather I droned up and down the granite walls of the mountain for as long as my fuel reserves allowed, before returning to Goroka to unload the meat and refuel to maximum capacity.
Returning to the area, after unloading and taking on three observers, we found that a number of other aircraft had been recruited for the search, including airline DC-3s. It seemed to me that the DC-3 was not the best choice of equipment to be darting and diving through breaks in the clouds over high mountains, some covered in tropical rainforest, with the accent on rain that particular day and with other aircraft doing likewise. There were moments when I feared that the searchers might very well end up being the searched for.
The high country from Mt Wilhelm south to Mt Otto above 9000 feet, was allotted to me. Grey and black, rain-sodden clouds rose to 25,000 feet right along the range. Again my time was being wasted. The aircraft allotted the lower altitudes weren’t making any progress either. These circled mainly in the Ramu valley, miles away from the ranges where the 206 was thought to be. Occasionally I'd attempt to probe in closer, only to be turned back by a wall of ‘stuffed’ cloud. The radio was continually clogged by a cacophony of useless pilot cackle about the location of one search aircraft or another. No efficient searching was done. Most of that day was a waste of time for all aircraft concerned. Daylight drew to a close with little or no improvement in the weather.
The next day started out to same as we in the Baron were first on the scene, having left Goroka at daybreak'. At dawn the north side of the Bismarcks were seen to be pushing up huge rain clouds. That lasted for a good part of the morning, obscuring the most likely target areas. Afternoon saw the clouds lifting, but not enough to allow a good view of the wooded ridges in the Bundi Gap area close to Kegl Sugl, where by then it was suspected, the aircraft might be found.
The Baron was now beginning to show it’s true worth as a search plane. She was fast, light and easy to handle, the ample power developed by the engines allowing for tight turns and quick climbs. The low wing presented no problem with visibility. With a trickle of flap she handled nicely at slower speeds too.
The short tropical twilight was creeping across the hills as I left the search area that evening, diving smartly through gaps in the cloud cover from the north of Goroka valley. Indications were the following morning would see a marked improvement in the weather. All other aircraft involved returned to Madang on the coast. With the onset of darkness, as if by magic, the mountains began throwing off the blankets of soggy cloud that had shrouded them for days.
That night I was briefed by phone by the searchmaster at his headquarters in Port Moresby. My request for a lower search pattern was granted. There were to be some fifteen aircraft taking part in the search next day, should the weather be good. The search area would be then even more crowded.

First light saw us scudding once more across the Bundi Gap, partly under early morning mountain range shadow. Ahead the sky and the ranges were cloudless. Over the Bundi Gap we manoeuvred into a gradual descent from 9000 feet, down and along the range towards Mount Otto, with the forested ridges of the range just off the right wingtip. The observers were glued to our right side windows. My guess was that the Cessna would likely be on the northern side of the range, as the southern side in that area was populated and only wooded in patches. Had he come to grief on that side he would already have been found.
Closing rapidly on the shoulders of Otto at the finish of the run, I swung to the left away from the ranges in a turn that would retrace our flight path up towards Mt.Wilhelm. That put the ranges on my side, allowing me to tuck in even closer to the face of the many sheer cliffs and the full torrent waterfalls from the previous day's heavy rains. A spectacular sight.
On the third run down the range, just skimming over the trees, from the rain soaked forest came a sharp glint of reflected light that could have only come from something metallic . It came from a cliff face close to the Asaloka Gap, twenty kilometres or so from Kegl Sugl. I felt the adrenalin rush as I laid her over into a tight left turn, holding her there until we had gone round 270 degrees so as to roll out pointing directly at the narrow defile between the mountains that formed Asaloka Gap. The sunflash first seen would be just to the right and slightly below.
With the cliffs coming in rapidly I had the throttles fully forward. A light back pressure on the wheel was enough to aim our nose at the gap. Committed now, there was no room on either side to turn away while seeking for the spot .

For a split second a fragment of shiny metal could be seen against the reddish colour of an almost vertical landslip, which by the look of it was freshly made. Then it was gone as the ridges on each side closed in forcing us to fly straight through. Seconds later we burst through, into and over the northern reaches of the Goroka valley and our comfort zone.

To allow the observers to confirm the find we came back through the gap again, low but not too fast, while they craned their necks at the spot . Though certain that what I'd seen was a part of Father Joe’s Cessna, confirmation was needed from at least one of the observers.

Now the sun’s rays were blocked by Mt. Otto, so no more was there the glint of metal to home in on. Making several more passes from each side of the gap increased my familiarity with the terrain while bringing us closer and closer to the near vertical face every time. So as to get a closer look down the face our successive passes necessitated these low runs through the gap, wingtips almost brushing the forest. By now one of the crew was looking decidedly seedy from the sharp turns, descents and climbs. In spite of his condition he managed to indicate to me that he’d spotted the wreckage. I estimated it's elevation to be about 7,000 feet.
As we continued pass after pass we saw parts of the wreck embedded in the cliff-face. The sight was sickening. There could be no doubt that Father Joe and his offsider's lives on earth ended about the time I'd left Dumpu in the Ramu Valley with the load of beef two days before. A shudder ran through me digesting that grim fact. Certain now of no mistake I reported our find to the searchmaster at Madang. He asked that we fly there to give him the precise details of wreckage location. All three observers looked relieved to be flying at last steadily straight and level.

Those who later viewed the crash site from the air were surprised how difficult it was to positively identify the wreckage. Without the sun glinting on that part first seen from the Baron, the search may have never been successfully concluded.

Days passed before a ground party led by Patrol Officer Richard Giddings struggled up and through the Asaloka Gap. The climb down to the wreckage was perilous . From the air, the almost vertical route to the wreckage looked to be inaccessible except perhaps for a trained mountaineer. Richard and his party of New Guinea highlanders made it there in three days . Because of the almost sheer face, there was little hope of the investigators gathering sufficient evidence for a conclusive technical report. Many pieces had tumbled further down the landslide created and were irretrievable.

Viewing the ground party at the site from the air, after their dangerous climb and descent, turned my thoughts back again to my Drover in Fiji and the ‘technical expert’ who failed to make the distance to the crash site through fatigue, but who nevertheless filed a conclusive report on that machine’s pre-crash alleged serviceability.

The search party recovered only a few remains of the two priests. Father Joe was well known, much loved and respected for his work as priest, mission pilot and mechanic. For years he had lived a Spartan life in an open-air hangar beside the runway at Madang, supplying the many Catholic mission stations in the interior. Over many years, almost all his flights entailed crossing the mighty Bismarcks in his well-known, well-maintained Cessna 180. A hush seemed to fall over the harbourside township as the news spread of his passing.

Despite some 'experts' opinion, weather was not the primary cause of this accident. Though it was time and again the major factor with accidents of which I had first hand knowledge, in this instance, though doubtless a contributory factor, there was, I thought, a more plausible explanation.

Joe had amassed hundreds of hours between Madang and the highlands in the mission’s Cessna, , a smaller, tail-wheel model than the one in which he was killed. The 206 was relatively new to him, larger, heavier and fitted with a tricycle undercarriage. Of the differences between the two types, a significant one in my opinion is the arrangement of the fuel selector lever on the floor between the front seats.

With the Cessna 180’s tank selector centred forward, both tanks were ON. In the 206 the fuel was OFF when the selector was centred forward. Changing from one tank to the other on the 206 meant that the selector must go through OFF. It could well be that Father Joe had always flown his 180 with both tanks selected, for that was common practice with pilots flying the type.. During the climb near the Bundi gap, with his mind fully occupied searching for a way through the cloud and rain, had he a need to change tanks, the fuel might have been inadvertently shut off during that selection. Such is often the nature of entrenched habit.

Given that scenario, Father Joe would have been taken by surprise with a dead cut of the engine, while fully engaged positioning to avoid the many clouds that covered the high terrain that day, possibly resulting in a loss of control.
Conjecture of course, for the parts that may have supported this theory were, as we know, never found .

With the search over, for me it was a return to the daily grind of flying through the mountains with a lot of catch up charters to do.
Father Joe and other mission pilots who lost their lives in New Guinea up to that time, have been remembered with a memorial stone on the airport at Madang. On the peak is a bronze replica of Father Joe’s much cared-for Cessna 180 in a banked attitude.
Every time I see that memorial I am reminded too of Ray Jaensch, chief pilot of Lutheran Air Services, who like Father Joe, had been flying from Madang for years. Both men were near neighbours and friends in friendly competition on mission supply routes. Ray’s life was lost I believe, because of an amateurish, bureaucratic bungle. This is the subject of the next chapter.

Last edited by Fantome; 10th Jun 2011 at 01:37.
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Old 10th Jun 2011, 08:04
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Fantone - well written - thanks
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Old 10th Jun 2011, 15:04
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Papua New Guinea / Father Joe


Sad occasion, well written and part of the story of PNG.

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Old 10th Jun 2011, 18:44
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Thank you. Vintage McCook.

For years he had lived a Spartan life in an open-air hangar beside the runway at Madang, ....

Anybody want to supply me with a hangar?
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Old 11th Jun 2011, 03:36
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Great read Fantome. Are these short stories published in a book that one can purchase, if not you should consider it.

There are similar stories of brave mission pilots who lost their lives flying in PNG, I recall a good friend of mine Father Bouchard from the Kiunga parish who met a similar fate in the Hindenberg wall near Bolivip, having flown in the area for many years. More stories please!!
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Old 11th Jun 2011, 04:23
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High 6, did not Fr Bouchard have an accident at Kungim? If I recall correctly, he flipped over on landing on a wet, slippery strip.

Others did crash into the Hindenburg Wall; Andy Parr in a Talair Islander, and Roy Hoey in a MAF Twin Otter.
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Old 11th Jun 2011, 06:07
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I saw Fr Joes hangar abode in 1963, and it was indeed basic. The sak sak swamp was right at his backdoor and I reckon the mossies out there would have been bigger than his 180. At that time I was living on the didiman station half way between the strip & town.

happy days,
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Old 11th Jun 2011, 09:53
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Bryan McCook & THAT search

Delighted to read the piece by Bryan. Thank you very much indeed -and if you have any more......
I flew on that search. Bryan was our chief pilot at the time and it was no surprise to any of us that he was the one who found the wreckage. - and yes - I carted many a load of beef and flies from Dumpu, up, up, and over the gap. In a 185 though. Mostly Brian flew the only Baron!
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Old 11th Jun 2011, 10:14
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Father Joe

Father Joe was certainly not "Holier than thou". His halo tilted occasionally. Who else remembers the story of his radio report on the serviceability of one of the grass strips? "Maprik" he advised "is wet and slippery". On nation wide HF too.
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Old 11th Jun 2011, 11:42
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Noel Fewster

No, not a pilot for TAL, to my recollection but yes, a TAA pilot based in Lae in the late sixties.
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Old 11th Jun 2011, 11:43
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Vale John Close. Passed away in the last week. Pretty sure he was the last ever CFI of a PNG aeroclub?
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Old 12th Jun 2011, 08:17
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Rumours going around the traps is that the Windjammer Hotel burnt down last week,can anyone in the know confirm or deny this ?

Apparently Sir Hugo suffered some injuries although I believe he is ok.

This info is third hand,can anyone confirm if there is any truth in this ?
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Old 12th Jun 2011, 08:37
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Windjammer hotel

Appears to be true......

Post-Courier Online
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Old 12th Jun 2011, 21:19
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My first task this fateful day, entailed flying a DCA aerodrome inspector from Goroka to Nondugl in the Cessna 185. Nondugl in the Wahgi Valley belonged to Sir Edward Hallstrom, a prominent industrialist, philanthropist and chairman of Taronga Park Zoo in Sydney. Many Birds of Paradise and other exotic fauna brought into Nondugl were destined for the zoo.

Though my intention was to wait at Nondugl while the airstrip inspection was finished, after landing and just beforeshutting down, Madang called up with a request. A Dornier DO27, the subject of an uncertainty phase, had not been heard of since calling 'taxying Tauta for Madang' some while ago. My heart missed a beat, for this was the replacement aircraft for one that I'd crash landed. During my stint with the Lutheran Mission, or in pidgin 'Lutmis', I'd piled up several hundred hours in both Dorniers before piling one of them up! The one we'd called 'The Green Machine', VH-AMQ, I'd forced landed at Mount Elimbari a couple of years before. There myself plus five others had a miraculous escape following engine failure. Now it sounded as though VH-EXA, or 'The Red Machine', could be in trouble.

Madang asked if I could have a look around the Finisterre Mountains in the vicinity of Tauta.

Ray Jaensch , chief pilot of Lutheran Air Services was I knew the only pilot now flying the Dornier. Later I learnt that the purpose of the flight was to have Madang’s District Commissioner open a newly prepared airstrip at Tauta, at the head–waters of the Surinam River on the northern side of the Ramu Valley. An initially somewhat disgruntled aerodromes inspector agreed to my proposal that I'd drop back into Nondugl to collect him as soon as emergency duties had been done.

As I wasn't sure of Tauta's exact location my forty minute flight there was via Dumpu cattle station in order to follow the Surinam valley that ran down from the Finisterres to the Ramu valley. From there the narrow, jungle enclosed river could be followed upstream until it petering out high on a steep, forest covered mountain wall, jagged and sinister looking.

Circling Tauta, a few miles west of there could be seen the prominent and notorious 'Shaggy Ridge', where Australian and Japanese forces had fought their bloody battle. The focus of my attention though was on the airstrip below, the newly made gash in the forest.

There was no sign of the Dornier, except for wheel marks on the muddy surface. It was plain to see where Ray had landed and parked. Also where the wheels had left the ground on take-off, per usual for the Dornier, a very short distance from the start of it's run.
The strip , as yet without a blade of grass, sloped steeply down to the tree-lined river valley below. Wasting no time, I swung round over the top in a tight circuit for the uphill landing, at the end of which at the top of the strip, swinging round to park at right angles to the slope, dozens of yelling excited locals instantly closed in.

Fearing the prop could easily kill or injure any of these half-naked bush people, I'd switched off the engine while holding my breath. Mine was only the second aircraft they'd seen close up. As I had slithered from my seat to the ground the whole tribe was yelling and pointing down the strip into the valley below.

It appeared that not long after the Dornier had lifted off, some distance down the valley the engine faltered. The‘plane was seen to descend suddenly without again rising. At times smoke was seen coming from the river valley.

This information was communicated in excited, rapid-fire pidgin, or ‘talk place’, volume at maximum, accompanied by much sign language with hands and eyebrows.

Looking down, the formidable valley floor with it's thick rainforest cut by a narrow, winding, boulder-strewn stream did not fill me with hope. But take off and search I must. The villagers seemed uncertain as to which way the 185 would move. They darted away from the spinning prop blades in all directions as I swung round to face down the strip. .

Requiring no climb at all, the take-off was easy, coasting off the strip into a descent below the treetops lining the valley. In less than a minute I saw a curl of smoke. And there it was! The wreckage of the Dornier among huge boulders in the stream.

No surprise I'd missed it on the way in as my eyes had then been searching ahead for first sight of the new airstrip before banking sharply to turn away from the sheer wall of the forested mountain.

Flying downstream as now I was, I could push the nose down and zoom over the wreckage at tree top height. Four people were on the rocks in the river. Two were waving frantically.

Coming round again I recognised Dr Laurence Malcolm, District Medical Officer Madang. He seemed unhurt as he tended another person stretched out on a rock, some twenty metres downstream of the wreck, by then a tangled mass of burnt out metal.

Buzzing low with a wing waggle I then climbed and called Madang with the details.
My immediate destination was Goroka to
collect a storepedo, a large cylinder packed with emergency gear.

Arriving there thirty minutes later, the right side passenger door was removed and the rear bench seat. With re-fuelling over, the storepedo was loaded, along with Max Parker, a fellow pilot, as handler, to dispatch it.

Another half hour later we were coming in low and slow, for a downstream drop. On my signal, Max bundled the storepedo out on it's static line, while I poured on the power, gaining height till a reverse turn could be made. Flying over the wreck again we saw the parachute draped over a boulder close to the wreckage. For the first time I felt somewhat reassured, knowing that Dr Malcolm now had some tools of his trade with which to work.

Climbing now so as to assess the recovery plan the straight line distance to Tauta appeared to be about one kilometre, a tortuous climb for the survivors, over boulders and through thick bush, but not by any means impossible with the help of the men of the village. There could well be a track somewhere beneath the dense jungle.

Adept with their razor sharp machetes the rescue party would have no trouble making stretchers from saplings and vines

Radioing Madang that I was about to land at Tauta they replied that Tauta was closed
by order of the Director of Operations, DCA, Port Moresby, and not to be used under any circumstances. The telex to this effect also stated that my earlier landing there was in breech of regulations for the strip had not been approved and I must submit an incident report on return to Goroka.

This stupid message I rate as by far the most ludicrious I have ever received or ever want to. Later I was to see it as tantamount to criminal. In hindsight I should have ignored it. Regrettably I was swayed by the imperious tone of voice from Madang insisting I acknowledge receipt of the NOTAM and further relaying the instruction that we were to remain over the crash site until arrival of the helicopter that presumably had been dispatched.

Even recounting the story years later distresses me, for Max and I circled for hours that day, knowing full well that things down in the river were bad and that time was running out for the injured. There were two survivors wrapped in blankets stretched out on the rocks with Dr Malcolm and others in attendance. Each hour the story was the same. The chopper was on its way. No, a specific time of arrival could not be given yet.

A note dropped to Dr Malcolm to tell him the chopper was coming was acknowledged with a thumbs up.

Fortunately the weather further upstream towards the towering Finisterre Mountains remained fine. Streams in such narrow, steep gorges, are ever prone to flash flooding after deluges in the high country.

Three hours passed with no sign or word of the chopper. On the Tauta airstrip we could see villagers making their way down to the river. The sight of them caused us to wonder what their thoughts might be after spending many hard months chopping down the trees, carving out the strip, filling it, smoothing it off, all without machinery, awaiting the grand occasion of the official opening. The sight of them now using some nouse gave me heart.

Next came a request from Madang to proceed to Goroka to uplift fuel for Dumpu cattle station so that there the chopper could refuel enroute to Tauta.
That a DC3 from Madang was coming into Dumpu to await the return of the chopper with the survivors.

On arrival Goroka I called Madang and told them that the strip at Tauta was perfectly safe for a fully loaded 185 considering the present weather. I said I could easily uplift the survivors from Tauta should the need arise.

The answer was the same, ‘Tauta is closed to all operations. The helicopter will uplift all survivors and transfer them to the DC3 at Dumpu." Had I been standing by a brick wall I'd have banged my head against it.

After a hurried refuel and the loading of a drum of avgas we replaced the door and returned to Tauta via the Bena Gap and Dumpu. For some fortuitous reason the old enemy, an afternoon build up of rain cloud along the Bismarcks and the Bena Gap, was nowhere in sight,

The weather remained abnormally clear and stable. The mountain tops and the cattle station, only a few miles from Tauta, all basked in bright sunshine. For me though, as I resumed my standby function overhead, a dark cloud of another kind was hovering nearby.

For hours I circled, frustrated and angry, while watching the two pitiful figures stretched out on the rocks with the doctor and the others ministering to them. By that time extreme anxiety for the wellbeing of those injured had got to me. There was still no sign of the chopper, nor could an estimate for its arrival be ascertained.

When the DC3 of Ansett Mandated Airlines came up and gave its landing report at Dumpu I flew straight there for a briefing.

Tom Deegan, a New Guinea airline veteran was flying the 'Three' with Rob Hopkins as First Officer. A government medical assistant was on board to attend to the survivors. Now taking the major role in the rescue, the DC3 would remain at Dumpu to transport the survivors to Madang when the chopper brought them in.

Tom was interested in the location of the wreckage but could not be enticed into flying his DC3 to take a look, though I assured him that it was perfectly safe for his bigger charge over the site at 4000 feet, all surrounding heights being clearly visible. Again I returned to Tauta to take up my circling watch, still in an angry state of mind.

At about this time a pilot with a Canadian accent came up on the radio. At last the chopper was somewhere near.He said he was having weather problems leaving the highlands for the Ramu Valley and Dumpu.
He passed an estimate, or more likely a guesstimate, of four o'clock.

My heart sank even further. The Dornier had already been down for seven hours and there was still some time to go before the chopper could be on the scene.

All the time while circling I’d been looking for a suitable pad for the chopper, a reasonable distance from the Dornier. To my mind there was nothing.
I'd passed that information to Madang several times. There were no sandy stretches or clearings within coo-ee of the wreck. Big trees spread their branches out over the huge boulders that ran bank to bank.

I began to hate myself for not landing in defiance of the order. Had the Tautuans started on a ground rescue at the beginning, the stretcher-bearers might already have been on their way up back up with the injured. The inland bush-men, the 'fuzzy wuzzy angels’, became supermen when it came down to such tasks. From Tauta, the injured could have been flown directly to Madang in the 185, a flight of about twenty five minutes in favourable weather.

Looking down on the scene in the river, a sickening feeling came over me that a tragedy was in the making. How could a man in far-away Port Moresby know whether the Tauta strip was safe or not, without seeing for himself, or questioning me about it. He had already been informed that Tauta was suitable for the 185. The accident with the Dornier was not related in anyway to the state of the strip. Whether or not it would be possible to land the chopper in the narrow, boulder strewn riverbed still had to be decided.

The next call from the chopper came as he entered the Ramu Valley at Arona Gap, about thirty kilometres away. At four thirty he landed to refuel at Dumpu alongside the drum that had been placed conveniently to allow for a quick turnaround.

I was mortified to learn that the pilot had been in New Guinea for only two weeksand hadn’t been to this part of the country before. He'd been on a sortie from a surveyor’s camp to faraway Mount Karimui when notified of the crash, this about an hour after I had been called to assist after landing Nondugl. He knew next to nothing about what was going on.

With no one to brief him on the best route to follow to Dumpu and ill-equipped with maps, he returned the surveyors to their camp, then chose a route that had at least doubled the distance to Dumpu. It was easy to see that he was tired and nervous as I told him of the urgency of the situation in the Surinam valley.

There was no time to lose. The Dornier’s location was pointed out on the map that had been lent to him. My outstretched arm showed him the route to follow across the Ramu valley plains to the entrance to the Surinam. He didn’t’ seem to be too sure of himself. For that I couldn’t blame him, new to this strange land. In fact I felt sorry for him, though his attitude angered me. He wasn’t acting as if he was in any sort of a hurry. I watched from the 185 as time ticked on. Finally he got his rotors turning.

He lifted off and chattered away across the flat, open plain of the Ramu towards the entrance to the Surinam. The summits of the towering mountains of the Finisterres by then were purple in the lowering sun, soon to be hidden under huge, billowing, build-ups. Allowing a few minutes I took off , soon passing the slower mover and taking the lead where the Surinam's white water poured out into the Ramu.

I climbed so as to orbit at sufficient height to allow the chopper to manoeuvre. We established contact on VHF .

It was obvious that the chopper would not be able to set down close to the wreckage. I traced his movements as he began a hunt for a landing place upstream and downstream. My spirits were lower than low during that period of uncertainty. The thought of him not being able to find a suitable place and of a day wasted from the rescue point of view dismayed me.

Finally he found a spot, one that looked far from acceptable to me. But with a flurry of cut leaves and foliage he put down. He told me he felt forced to risk what he did with night coming on. My respect for fling-wing drivers, never that high, rose rapidly, especially for the one down there in the riverbed.

A long time passed before a number of local men came hopping from rock to rock towards the chopper, path finding for a group carrying a blanket between them with what must be Ray wrapped inside. The stream was now in dark shadow as the sun dipped behind the mountains.
Fifteen precious minutes elapsed before the Tauta villagers, with Dr Malcolm, reached the chopper. The black wall of night would soon roll down over the valley, preventing a safe take-off . Why the others were still at the wreck some two hundred metres upstream I could not understand?

Tauta men with their machetes hacked away at branches that would interfere with the rotor blades during lift-off. Then came a delay while a mob of local men milled about the bubble of the chopper. The pilot radioed that they were having trouble. Ray would have to be shifted from the pannier where he was lying to inside the bubble. Due to the restricted area he could carry only the patient alone and he would have to be seated beside the pilot to compensate for the critical balance of the helicopter at lift- off.
Still circling overhead, still fretting, time
running out without a sign of the chopper starting up, only heightened my anxiety.

Finally at six o'clock the rotors began turning.

Thick foliage under the trees on the river banks began to flatten and fly as the blades speeded up for the lift-off.
From above, the whole manoeuver looked highly hazardous. The gap between the trees was so narrow. Though dreading to watch, I couldn’t take my eyes away for a second. The canopy of the jungle began to quiver in the downwash as the chopper lifted clear.
I held my breath until some forward movement of the bubble with it’s skeletal frame behind could be seen. Judging by the foliage being whipped about, he was still below the level of the branches. That reminded me of a nasty dream I'd once had, flying an aircraft down a busy street, trapped under tram and power lines unable to rise, with a busy intersection coming up, before I woke with a start, very happy to be in familiar surroundings.
Slowly the frantic waving of the foliage died down.
Watching that chopper rise from the dark valley was an experience never to be forgotten. The young pilot may not have known his way round New Guinea but he certainly knew a thing or two about his helicopter's capabilities.

I breathed a sigh of relief skimming down the river to emerge out onto the plains of the Ramu and so down into Dumpu, to be on hand when the chopper arrived.
Tom and Rob of the DC3, after spending a boring afternoon, were eager to go. The sun had gone down. The short twilight had set in. A race was now on to beat the failing light.

They could have saved precious minutes by starting their engines, ready for a quick departure when the chopper arrived, but that suggestion, coming from me, a general aviation pilot , was not received with any great enthusiasm, nor was there any sign of the engines being started up.
Minutes later the chopper put down beside the DC3. I could see Ray beside the pilot, head and shoulders slumped as if he was supported only by the seat harness, his colour ashen-grey. He was unconscious. As I lifted him out to carry him to the DC-3, I could see that both his legs were broken. He was very cold and lifeless. It seemed to me that there was only a rasp of breath at times to show that he was still alive.
Ray was laid on a stretcher on the floor of the DC3 with the medical assistant tending him while a couple of retaining straps anchored to the floor were passed over his body. Too many minutes later, Tom took the ‘Three’ away along Dumpu’s dusty, grass strip and turned low for Madang, disappearing quickly into the gloom of approaching night. I knew I’d never see my good friend again.

When they’d gone I turned to the chopper’s pilot , sitting on the pannier on the ground rails of his machine, his head bowed low to his knees. A fierce anger swept over me like a tide, as cruel, harsh words formed on my tongue, words that were meant to hurt.

I said his lateness might be the cause of Ray’s death. That I’d spent most of the day circling in a tight valley uselessly, waiting for him to arrive. I asked how were the other four survivors to be uplifted out of the river now that darkness had overtaken their rescue?
My outburst was the result of the many stresses and strains of the day. Frustrations too, so words that should never have been uttered were. As I simmered down I deeply regretted the explosion of anger. I quickly apologised. I could see that he was hurt badly.
A form of truce now existed for there was nothing more we could do that night. We stayed at Dumpu homestead with Bruce and Barbara Jephcott. It was hard for them two, for they knew everyone who'd been in the crash.

Over dinner the Canadian recounted his day’s many trials. With the chopper, he was in a precarious situation on the summit of Mount Karimui (8428 ft) over in ‘old Papua’, waiting for some surveyors to complete their work, when he received the rescue request. His party had to be shuttled back to their camp before he could set out for Dumpu, a necessary task that occupied more than a couple of valuable hours. Didn’t the searchmaster know, or understand, that those men must not be left on the top of Mount Karimui for the night I wondered? The rest I knew.

Again I apologised for my earlier outburst. He finished by saying that he would not go back into the Surinam valley again, ever, under any circumstances. The landing and take-off there had been a frighteningly close shave for him, he would not take the same risk again, come what may.
I said not a word to him of my thoughts, but before sleep came, my mind was made up.

In darkness next morning, Bruce drove me over to the airstrip. I checked the 185 over by hurricane lamp. Madang didn’t come on watch until six o'clock. Making no radio call, I taxied out . Throttle wide , I tore off for the Surinam and Tauta like a Spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain. To the southeast, over the broad plains of the Ramu, the sky gave first glimmers of the new day.
With the sun’s first rays hitting the upper slopes of the Finisterres, I three-pointed onto Tauta's notorious airstrip. There’d been no rain overnight, a miracle in itself. The surface was firmer than the day before.
There weren’t any villagers about, most were solid sleepers in their windowless, darkened huts, it would take more than an aircraft arriving to wake them at that hour of the morning.

As I switched off, to my surprise, Dr. Laurence Malcolm, Vin Smith, District Officer at Madang and Patrol Officer Tony Cooke, three of the Dornier’s passengers, appeared from a nearby bush house. Their faces all showed signs of the stress suffered, during and after the crash.All were scratched, mud-spattered and grubby, but none seriously hurt. To a man, they praised Ray fulsomely for the landing on the big boulders in the river.
District Commissioner Kaad was nowhere to be seen. He’d been sitting beside Ray and was now lying in the hut seriously hurt.

Guided by the village men, they had reached Tauta in the early hours, after trekking up from the crash site in darkness. They had watched the chopper take off. That was not going to be for them, even if the pilot came back. Better the overnight trek through the bush to Tauta.
DC Kaad, who was suffering a spinal injury was carried over to the aircraft on a bush stretcher. Laurence Malcolm considered the District Commissioner’s injuries to be serious which told me that Ray with DC Kaad should indeed have been evacuated from the airstrip in the afternoon of the day before.

DC Kaad was obviously in intense pain. When told of the closing of the Tauta strip by a bureaucrat in Port Moresby, all three were ropeable. I felt small, for the look in their eyes told me that I should have gone in regardless of the consequences.

The thing about a chief pilot's responsibilities, and Lord knows I've had to spell them out enough times writing operations manuals , is that you re damned if you do and you are damned if you don't.

Laurence was beside himself with rage, DC Kaad too, about the contents of the storepedo, which contained only blankets, bandages and dressings. Of sedatives, opiates, syringes or antiseptics there were none. Both vowed that their reports would cause heads to roll.

Before leaving I let them know that as they were about to be party to be an illegal flight, I felt obliged to give them the option of declining. The good doc's response was a derisive snort as he set to to load Fred Kaag as comfortably as he could, carefully settling him on a layer of blankets on the floor, leaving room to squat beside him.

By splitting the load so as to allow an added margin of safety it was decided to make two trips instead of just the one.
District Officer Vin and Patrol Officer Cooke were needless to say quite content to wait for my return.

All set to go, doctor and patient were clearly nervous about this, their second Tauta take off, particularly so because of the softness of the uncompacted strip surface. The doc asked me if the 185 could handle it and would I prefer he remained behind.

I responded by powering up against the brakes until the locked wheels could hold us no more. As we began to slide I released the brakes. Roaring down the slippery slope, we were in the air by about half way. Throttling back, I pointed the nose down into the Surinam to find the bottom of the narrow valley, including the crash site, blanketed by fog.

In perfect early morning weather, cloudless and still, we climbed over Shaggy Ridge, taking in the fearsome mountains etched against the clear blue of the sky. Then it was down over Astrolabe Bay and on to Madang calling the mildly surprised tower at six thirty, thirty miles out.

Unloading at the mission hangar we heard the grim news that last night Ray Jaensch's wife Betty met the DC3 only to find that Ray had died not long before. A sombre moment for us all, particularly Doc
Malcolm and me, for Ray had been for both of us a true wantok.

After seeing Fred Kaad into his hospital transport, Laurence Malcolm said he must
call on the Jaenschs before going to attend to Fred at the hospital. Though still distressed that there were no pain relief drugs in the air drop with which he'd have been able to relieve Ray's suffering and perhaps prolong his life, he did say he believed that Ray's chances of survival had been greatly eroded by the way he had to be sat in the front of the chopper for the short, hazardous flight to Dumpu.

For me now there was work to be done as the 185 was urgently required back at Goroka not to mention an aerodrome inspector cooling his heels at Nondugl.
First though, back to Tauta to pick up Vin and Tony. I'd got word that I was now
clear to use Tauta at my own descretion!

Good news of course, but also adding wry force to the old adage that if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for everything.

Ray Jaensch's accident was his first after war service in Europe with the RAAF. Though I had survived several close shaves virtually unscathed I still continued to fly round the mountains of New Guinea nearly every day.
So it is fair to conclude that I must have been doing something right.

I became increasingly involved with pilot selection and training despite having to deal almost daily with obstruction from DCA officials. This I shall elaborate upon anon.
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Old 12th Jun 2011, 23:30
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Thanks Bryan

Looking forward to learning more of your experiences which raise very pertinent questions re remote exercise of 'authority'.
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Old 13th Jun 2011, 00:45
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Ian Hodgson

Descol, the last I heard of Ian Hodgson [Biggles], he loaned this plane to a pilot for his honeymoon, and it crashed taking off from Misima. Pilot and bride were okay, but the plane was a writeoff. I heard the plane was uninsured, but he bought another one. That's the last I heard of him, after I left PNG in 1982. Ian was a licensed land surveyor, but I could find no record of his on the Queensland Surveyor's Board Register recently. I had many flights with Ian, who was a very good light aircraft pilot. I felt safe flying with Ian, even in the incidents we experienced. You may be the Irish architect that flew with Ian from Moresby to Birdsville and back? John
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Old 13th Jun 2011, 04:49
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The story of Father Joe ploughing into a cliff face reminds me that things we have learned about later, were happening since we started flying aeroplanes.
On the sixth of February 1941 Frank Buchanan in UJO, a Hercules, failed to arrive in Wau from Salamaua.
OK…OK settle down!
The C130 wasn’t the first Hercules. Thissy was a Dh 66… a bloody great bridge like structure that got airborne against great odds by being dragged along by three 420 HP Bristol Jupiter engines connected to whopping two bladed wooden props.

VH-UJO had come from West Australian Airways and they had come up with a real neat, new, idea, when they ordered it from de Havillands. Could de H. enclose the cockpit so the pilots weren’t sitting out in the weather. It was possibly the first plane they ever bothered doing THAT to. The original 66s made for Imperial Airways had the pilots where they rightfully belonged… out freezing their nuts off.
The Herc, along with all the other Pommy aeroplanes wasn’t really suited to PNG operations, but the government weren’t breaking with mother England and wouldn’t allow real aeroplanes into the country and protectorates.
Dunnow how the Junkers got in but they certainly showed the string bags up for the antiquated relics that they were.
After an extensive search of four days, a glint of white was spotted through the trees and UJO was located.
I have coloured movie my uncle took as he circled the site and there’s not much to see other than a bit of white material..
They’d flown into the ground. That was a funny thing because Frank was a weary pilot near cloud. Didn’t like rock filled ones at all.
No one knew how he could have done it. Me old man’s mate, Doug Muir, had a theory.
The same day, a cold wind bore down the valley at Wau and flattened the Carpenter’s hangar, making a bit of a mess of a Dragon, Gannet and a Fox Moth.

Doug who was one Oz’s more famous but unheralded airmen and engineers reckoned it was that same wind that probably pushed Freddy into the trees.
In the eighties we learned all about downbursts and played flyin’ to stick shaker speed to combat one in the simulator.
Lotsa real big clouds in PNG… Met observed some at Moresby at seventy thousand feet on the Owen Stanlies one arvo in 1970.
I wonder how many downbursts we flew near and if some of those blokes we reckoned had been a bit too smart, crossing ridges with little to spare, had been squashed into them.
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Old 13th Jun 2011, 08:55
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greenjohn- check you private messages on prune !
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