By EREBIRI ZURENUOC
ELEVEN dead were airlifted by Manolos Aviation Ltd from the Sarawaget Range to Lae in Morobe last week as search and rescue continued to look for survivors of trekking groups.
No one appeared to know how many people had set off for the trek and how many had died from exposure to cold and hunger.
But the rescuers and searchers said many more were on the freezing mountains fighting the cold without any special gear.
While latest reports accounted for the bodies brought back by helicopter, accounting for about 20, there were also 27 survivors.
Trekkers had taken to the rugged terrains to cross for centenary celebrations of the Lutheran mission.
Manolos Aviation chief executive and pilot Capt Jürgen Ruh said a local, Vincent Kowang, from Geraoun village in the Komba local level government area of Kabwum, led a team of more than 10 men to search the Sarawaget Range at 11,000ft for the dead and any survivors.
Kowang told The National at the Sarawaget Range last week that after hearing reports at Indagen of people dying from cold, he knew something was wrong so he took the men and left Indagen last Sunday.
“People were trekking to Indagen for the 100 years anniversary commemoration of the first Lutheran missionaries on Aug 19,” he said.
“Those who didn’t make it, we knew the clouds took them, so we had to go and look for their bodies. They shouldn’t be left lying along the trek like that, they need proper burial,” Kowang said.
“Since Aug 19, we found three bodies along the trek at Zamalulu area and piled them at one spot. We also found another four and piled them at one spot.
“There are four more bodies which trekkers have sighted at Marambi area and informed us to recover. We found only three because a baby couldn’t be found at the scene.”
Kowang said seven deceased were airlifted to Lae on Thursday, two on Friday and one on Sunday.
He believed that between Ogau Village (border of Nawaeb and Kabwum) and Mt Buak at Zamalulu, there were more deceased yet to be retrieved.
“We will be searching the Marambi area, but due to the steepness of the mountains, we need to use a net to airlift the bodies,” he said
Meanwhile local Erick Zamop, who was flown to Snake Creek with a Manolos team expressed his disappointment after seeking help from the Morobe Disaster Coordination Office in Lae. “On Tuesday (Aug 20) we went to the disaster office to seek help to get into Sarawaget.
“They told us to go and see the Evangelical Lutheran Church of PNG headquarters in Ampo.
“They told us that they will respond to cases of flooding or landslide, and not cases where people are trying to walk to their village and die.
“We knew help will come late and our only hope was on Ruh and Kowang and others back home who can find both the living and the dead.”
By EREBIRI ZURENUOC