COVID-19 Impacts Papua


My little phone camera doesn’t do justice to the stunning scenery on the way to Langda, including that massive waterfall in view just in front of the right wing cargo pod. Photo credit Brad McFarlane

The high altitude alpine scenery slipped by beneath the wings at 13,000 feet as I crested the pass recently on my way to Langda in one of our Pilatus Porters. Small pothole lakes dot the stark landscape here above timberline. Sheer limestone formations jut up into the early morning wispy clouds above me. A huge waterfall came into view gushing millions of gallons of crystal clear liquid a thousand feet over the edge of a cliff, draining water from who knows where. That’s gravity doing its job taking the water on its long journey back to the ocean. All amazing. Intricately balanced and designed. By God. For his glory!

One of our pilots, Tim, put together a pretty neat little video highlighting the Langda runway and you can see it here and find out more about Langda here.

 A few minutes later the wheels rolled along the rocky runway and I put the turbine into reverse to dissipate kinetic energy. It was a smooth landing, if I must say so myself, and only I would know because my cargo-only load didn’t really care. (We’re not carrying any passengers and we’re sterilizing our planes to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.) Strangely, and as a sign of current events, only three people showed up to greet me and help unload the plane. The rest of the villagers hung back … spread out. Word of COVID-19 reaches to even the farthest places on earth.

Before departure, I spent a bit of time explaining to the villagers (all three of them present) about how a virus can spread and what to do to help prevent that. I encouraged them to live smart and not in fear and to trust God. And they said “And we can pray too!” Yeah, that! Here I am being all scientific and they have a beautiful and simple trust in their Lord.

It’s hard to stay focused on the task of unloading when distracted by the beautiful scenery of 14,000-foot peaks surrounding the village of Langda. For social distancing, only three guys came out to the plane to help me unload my cargo. Photo credit  Brad McFarlane

It is quite possible that as the infection peaks in our area in the month or so ahead, the impact will be quite significant and completely overwhelming to the medical system. Right now, we are already implementing a number of measures to slow the spread of the virus. The Sentani airport is completely closed to all passengers; many expats had already left before the airport closed. In fact, all passenger—but not cargo flights—in Indonesia are now shut down, even international ones, until June 8.

Our aviation team is still working, but we comply with the 2:00 p.m. curfew—working from 7:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. We’re doing lots of office stuff: cleaning, painting, and training, updating manuals, renewing CFI’s online, etc. The PC12 is in the shop for about three weeks for a two-year inspection. It is all opened up really nice, so I’ve taken the opportunity to spend some time with the guys that fly it to look at the various systems that we don’t normally get a chance to see in detail.

We’re only flying cargo, no passengers. An emergency patient needs special paperwork permissions that take a day to process. We’re only carrying one bench seat in the plane with us, just in case we need it. On the flip side, it’s really nice to always have an empty seat next to me when flying. It’s a great place for my lunch box. Most of our cargo right now is divided between two school-building projects and also basic food staples that our employee co-op is running.

We’ve applied some old-fashioned ingenuity to ensure that we can wash our hands regularly when we fly to remote locations. We devised a very useful hand-washing station that could be installed in each Porter. We used a two-liter water bottle with an IV shutoff going to a hose out the drain hole of the Porter’s rear cargo pod compartment. It’s super handy and … kinda cute! I think after this COVID thing we’re going to keep our hand washers, but maybe just in a half-liter size to save weight.


Making use of the hand wash station. Photo credit Brad McFarlane


In these times of uncertainty it’s hard to be so far away from our kids and family back in the States. Susan and I are in Sentani and doing well. (As required, we’ve made sure we have a two-week supply of food on hand!) But the current world crisis that faces us is no surprise to our great God. Mindful of the Langda villagers who spoke of the importance of prayer, I pray that you find peace, wisdom, and daily joy. And join me in praying for unbelievers to turn to Christ for their true Hope.

Brad McFarlane

Brad McFarlane

Brad is a missionary pilot with YAJASI, our partner in Papua, Indonesia. He and his wife, Susan, have served there since 1997.