When the Airplane Can’t Fly

What happens when the only floatplane in all of Papua can’t fly?


When a retired missionary couple returned to visit their former mission station in the swampy lowlands of Papua, Indonesia, MAF pilot John Dalton flew them in PK-MAO—the only amphibious plane in all of Papua.

As he was about to takeoff and leave them there, the wife said to John, “You’d better come back.”

“The look she gave me, it was like when your mom is giving you that look,” said John.

But before John could get back in to pick her up, the plane ended up having some problems. It was grounded while parts of the engine were shipped back to the U.S. for inspection. While the plane was out of commission, the team realized just how important the floatplane flights are to the people they serve.

People like Pastor Yunus—an Indonesian pastor who lives in Merauke, where the MAF floatplane is based. He was scheduled to fly to Peope to help a new evangelist get settled in this very remote village. Unfortunately, the night before his flight was the night PK-MAO had problems.

Yunus couldn’t wait for the airplane to be fixed. So the next morning he and the evangelist set out by motorbike to Peope—a two to three day trip, crossing rivers and navigating barely passable trails. On their first day into the trip, they had an accident. Yunus broke his leg and the evangelist he was carrying suffered a cut in his lip, requiring stitches.

That same week, Dutch missionary Gerrit DeGraaf was working in this region and received a flight to the village of Kumaban, along with two other national teachers. Their goal was to train church elders to be good leaders. They were to be picked up on a Thursday, but the airplane started having trouble and MAF couldn’t retrieve them. They finally found their way home the following Saturday. It took three different boat trips totaling 11 hours of travel on rivers, and two separate one-hour commercial flights. On the MAF floatplane, the trip would have taken one hour and twenty minutes!

“If all of Gerrit’s trips were this lengthy and difficult, it would greatly reduce the frequency in which he travels interior for these times of training,” said MAF floatplane pilot Tom Bolser.

Thankfully, the mechanical issue was fixed and PK-MAO has been faithfully serving the people along the lowland rivers of Papua, Indonesia. And MAF Merauke floatplane pilots—and all the people they serve—have a new appreciation for the ministry and vital connections PK-MAO makes possible.

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