When the COVID-19 lockdown started on March 23 in Papua New Guinea, most flights were grounded, excepting the few that picked up missionaries and returned them to Ukarumpa. Regular air service to remote communities was suspended. For the many remote communities that have no road access, this suspension created a serious problem. They depend on air service to keep their health clinics supplied. For two months their clinics couldn’t replenish their supplies.
Then in late May, Jonathan Federwitz and his fellow pilots were cleared to fly to a number of villages in the Eastern Highlands Province to deliver medical supply kits provided by the Health Department of the province. In all, the pilots resupplied nine village clinics. Except for the Marawaka clinic, which is larger and needed two kits, each clinic received a kit that contained 17 boxes of standard supplies.
Jonathan and Brent Fox flew the Kodiak to five different airstrips located in a very mountainous region of the province. The airstrips are sloped and have unique patterns. Jonathan and Brent had to monitor the weight of their cargo carefully to accommodate conditions at some of the airstrips. For others, there were special wind and temperature conditions to consider.
Once on the ground, they observed a new set of conditions: Coronavirus protocols. The two pilots unloaded the airplane at each airstrip and set the boxes at least six feet away from the airplane. They normally would have had help with this task from local people. They wore masks and used hand sanitizer before and after the unloading. They observed the standard social distance as the local health director signed off on the delivery and posed for a photo. Only after they walked away from the boxes were the local people free to pick up the boxes and take them to the Health Center.
It’s no surprise that community members were very appreciative of these supplies and worked hard to complete the deliveries to their clinics.
—Based on information provided by Jonathan Federwitz, a pilot in Papua New Guinea