Sunday, August 24, 2008

Foreign Correspondent. A book review.

Not really a book review but a collection of my thoughts regarding a recent edition of the ABC's Foreign Correspondent television program. A segment of the program recently highlighted problems with Air Travel here in PNG and while I do not doubt that there are some issues with the Management of flying up here, I was not entirely convinced with the sensationalistic style of journalism displayed on the people's network of Australia at a night time slot. Perhaps it should have been best suited for a 6:30pm slot on a commercial network?

My primary concern is that the journalist (Steve Marshall) informed us that in a recent crash investigation, the investigating team were denied access to the crash site by local landowners seeking PGK10,000 in compensation. Whilst this was obvious, it was odd that Steve and his camera crew were given access to film the site and interview the landowners in question. The majority of helicopter charters in PNG start at around PGK4,000 per hour and Steve and the team had flown in and out of the crash site, and I am sure the landowners would of had a small surcharge for the permission to film the crash site. If they didn't then there is some hypocrisy in demanding compensation for the crash investigation team? I wonder if the crash investigation team were given access to the ABC's footage in full of the crash site? Let's hope the money spent bringing this news to our attention was used in a positive vein and the crash investigators received some valuable information?

The segment also interviewed the family of a pilot who lost his life in the crash that the camera crew visited and currently the family are being told that it was pilot error and therefore the case is closed. My impression in this compensation dependent society is that the family would prefer to have someone else be responsible for the crash so that compensation could be sought. While this is not a criticism of the segment, it is more a reflection as to why I named this blog what it is called.

Perhaps this is why man-made machines flown by man fall out the sky? On Christmas Eve of 2007, I needed to fly across to a village in the neighbouring Oro Province and high up in the often cloud covered Owen Stanley Ranges. I spoke to a friend of mine early in the morning and he said please do not go with such and such (named charter company) as he had witnessed their chopper pilot drinking heavily at the Yachtie at 1:00 am that morning and buying take aways for the drive home. I took that advice on board and went to another hangar where the pilot took me out to the workshop to show me the condition of the helicopter. It was unrecognisable, it was a pile of nuts, springs, panels and assorted mechanical looking bits. I asked what happened and he said that there was a concern on the last flight so they undid a nut and the chopper fell in bits. It must have been the nut on the mechanic's shoulders that was loose.

I then headed to the next hangar, home to the pilot who I was warned about with his overnight celebration and I found the pilot still celebrating Christmas with the boss of the company, in the middle of the carpark. To their credit, they did offer me a green can but I refrained, it was only 9:00 am.

I decided to postpone my trip. A few weeks later, the first hangar I went to, their helicopter stalled whilst landing at a nearby location a few seconds prior to landing, causing the helicopter to crash into a big messy pile. Both pilot and passenger survived, the chopper was brought back to Moresby in the back of a Ute.

Steve Marshall finished his story in a Nostradamus like fashion by suggesting that while currently it is only light aircraft falling out of the sky, it won't be long before the bigger planes have a Yogyakarta style incident. Inferring that if landowners continue to demand compensation of crash team investigators and the families of dead pilots seek someone to blame, then this will mean bad weather and poor pilot judgement will result in a Air Niugini flight crashing. I am going out on a limb and I will say that if F100s start dropping off the end of runways then the disease will spread to other carriers that use the same tarmac that Air Niugini do, it won't be long before QANTAS, Malaysian Airlines and Singapore Airlines start going buggerup.

Happy flying!