Crash of commuter airplane approaching the airport in Port Moresby (POM), Papua New Guinea with 8 people on board hit news headlines in Australia and Oceania Saturday morning, September 20, 2014. At about 9:40 AM local time (2345 GMT Friday) a DHC-6-300 Twin Otter airplane operated by HeviLift, local airlines, hit the slope of Mount Lawes near Goldie River barracks, north of Port Moresby, some 10 miles, 3 minutes of flight to POM airport. An Australian pilot, female co-pilot and a passenger were killed in crash. All people on board except pilot are PNG nationals. Another critically injured passenger died in the hospital in Port Moresby during the night. Four more passengers who were sitting in the tail of the plane, including Fr. Jean Paul, vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Woitape, survived with light injuries. All of them and bodies of those killed were transported to general hospital in Port Moresby.
Fr. Neil Lams CM who first let us know about the accident said that Hevilift’s plane was chartered by Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Woitape, in Golaila Mountains, which is one of international missions of the Congregation of the Mission to deliver supplies for the parish. Associate pstor, Fr. Jean Paul, a priest for Diocese of Bereina, which Woitape is part of was in the airplane.
Fr. Georges “Jorj” Maylaa CM who was the first Confrere to know about the accident and works with Fr. Vladimir “Vlad” Malota CM, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima and Superior of the mission told us that when Fr. Vlad knew about what happened he felt responsible and said “it was supposed to be me”.
Fr. Jacek Tendej CM, rector of Holy Spirit Seminary in Bomana, Port Moresby reported, Fr. Jean Paul was first planning to sit right behind pilots. But as woman with four children who was booked on the flight did not come up he decided to sit in the tail. Probably, this decision saved his life. Right after the catastrophe Fr. Jean Paul was the first person who used his cell phone to call for help and he contacted Fr. Georges “Jorj” Maylaa CM and told him bout situation. Fr. Jorj spent the night in the hospital with Fr. Jean Paul and other survivors.
When we talked to Fr. Jacek Sunday morning, European time, he mentioned that Fr. Jean Paul and Fr. Maylaa left the hospital and stayed in Divine Word Missionaries (SVD) residence in Port Moresby because the road to Bomana is under reapir and hardly accessible.
Fr. Neil pointed out another “Vincentian connection” of the plane crash. It took off from Woitape, which is a Vincentian parish and it crashed in the territory of another Vincentian parish in the outskirts of Port Moresby. The crash scene is within parish boundaries and couple of miles from one of the churches.
It was the first flight from Woitape Airport (WTP) to Port Moresby Airport (POM) for the very experienced pilot, an Australian expatriate. He didn’t know the landscape. “The weather is a bit of a factor here,” the PNG Accident Investigation Commission’s William Seneka said the cause of the fatal crash was still unknown but at this stage there were not any issues with the aircraft or the crew. At approach to POM heavy, low based clouds and heavy rain worsened situation and pilot could loose orientation.
PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill offered condolences to the grieving families. “The thoughts of the nation are with the families of the four people who lost their lives, and we pray for the recovery of the five survivors,” he said in a statement. The prime minister assured the public the cause of the crash would be fully investigated.
At approach to POM dense, low based clouds worsened conditions and pilot could loose orientation. Police revealed that a survivor had told them that visibility was very poor when the pilot felt tree tops touching the plane. Parts of the plane were ripped apart upon impact causing severe damage to the aircraft.
The aviation charter service HeviLift was established in 1994, providing specialized equipment and infrastructure for the transportation of personnel and equipment in a variety of environments. The airplane, de Havilland Canada Dash 6-300 Twin Otter (registration P2-KSF) was produced in 1977. And it was in good condition. This is one of the most popular regional passenger and cargo planes requiring short take-off and landing strips.
Since 2000 twenty air crashes were reported in Papua New Guinea. For pilots flying over the islands here is very difficult and challenging. Roads in the country are poor and few. Air charters are very popular for transportation of people and supplies.
Watch the video of the crash scene recorded by the local TV: