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A PAPUA New Guinea Defence Force Arava aircraft carrying nine medical staff and relief supplies crashed after landing at Menyamya airstrip in Morobe province yesterday morning.
The crew and passengers were unhurt and the relief supplies are safe.
As pilot Major Albert Tagua and co-pilot Lt Nancy Wii approached the airstrip, buzzing the top of the pine trees to the grass runway, they were watched by hundreds of locals including the coordinator of the emergency task force team, Micah Yawing, in freezing conditions.
For many, it was their first sight of the Israeli-built “gas cylinder”, as it is affectionately known by its pilots.
When it touched down about 7am, the locals punched the air shouting, “Welcome Papua New Guinea”.
But their euphoria was short-lived. While slowing down over the next 100m, the three-wheeler’s front landing gear broke. The wheel broke loose and the Arava went into a pelican dance, hurtling for another 20m into the turf.
Major Tagua and Lt Wii were yesterday flown to Lae while awaiting repairs to their aircraft, while the Arava is being guarded by Menyamya police station commander Sgt Ben Miyai and assistant Cpl Kisa Arnold.
Major Tagua and Lt Wii said there was no navigational problem. “The landing was smooth, it was structural failure,” Major Tagua and Lt Wii said.
Major Tagua said the plane was assigned to be stationed in Lae to assist in the delivery of relief supplies to dysentery, influenza and cholera-stricken areas of Menyamya and Wasu in Morobe province.
Major Tagua has been flying the Arava and Iroqouis helicopters of the PNGDF for the last 15 years.
He was a member of the Green Revolution programme transporting local coffee from remote locations in Simbu and other provinces, and taking the beans to major centres.
The plane was bought in 1982 and has served the PNGDF for last 30 years, with little attention from the Government to undergo major refurbishment, Major Tagua said.
“And it’s high time now for the Government to replace the plane with a new one.”
No information was available on how long it will take to repair the stricken aircraft.