A quiet day for Mission Aviation Fellowship in Timor-Leste is one of paperwork, answering emails and drinking coffee while always expecting that at some stage the phone might ring requesting a medevac flight or a last minute charter booking. For pilot and Country Director, Jason Job, that was what the Easter weekend was like. Being the only MAF pilot in the country for the holiday, he expected to be busy – it usually works out that way. However this time he wasn’t. Instead he could spend the time with his family while being on-call.
Little did he know then, but the busy time was coming! The programme only had two charters booked for Wednesday, the 24th April, starting early for a charter booked to pick up staff from The Asia Foundation from Same who had been working in the area for the last three days. To collect the passengers from Same at 8am, meant leaving Dili by 7.30am, home by 6.30am and out of bed at about 5.45am. It was an early beginning to the day.
His second charter flight for the day was for the Health Transport Team, a group of mechanics who keep the ambulances used in Timor-Leste in working order. They frequently fly with MAF to speed up their travel time to the towns outside of Dili. On this day they had booked the aircraft to fly to Maliana, a twenty five minute flight to the south-west of Dili, but by road this trip would take between three and four hours. As Jason prepared the paperwork and plane for this flight there was a phone call. A medevac flight was requested from Oecusse.
This phone call was not totally unexpected! As the previous evening, Jason had needed to inform the Ministry of Health that he was unable to carry out a requested medevac to Oecusse as it was too close to the end of daylight to be able to do the flight and return to Dili safely. Oecusse, to the west of Dili is 50 minutes flying time away. Maliana (where the ambulance mechanics needed to go) was conveniently on the way to Oecusse, so Jason dropped off the mechanics in Maliana and then continued on to Oecusse to collect the medevac patient. The patient was a young girl who had renal failure. While waiting for the ambulance to arrive in Oecusse, Jason received a call from Aldo, a Timorese MAF staff member who liaises with the ambulance headquarters, informing him that there was another medevac from Los Palos, a 55 minute flight this time to the east of Dili. So it was back to Dili to drop off the young girl from Oecusse, hydrate the plane and pilot (fuel and water) and off again, trying to minimise the time spent on the ground.
The patient in Los Palos was a thirty year old pregnant woman who was experiencing complications. Thankfully the weather was clear and Jason returned to Dili with his patient just before 3pm.
Ever since he had dropped off the ambulance mechanics in Maliana, Jason knew they would be ready to pick up again within a couple of hours. So all throughout his busy day, he was mindful to return to Maliana to pick them up as soon as it was possible.
However upon arriving in Dili from Los Palos, the return to Maliana had to again wait as yet another medevac request (the third one for the day) was received, this time to Same, to the south of Dili. The patient this time was a fifty three year old man who was seriously ill with suspected Hepatitis B and Pneumonia. He was accompanied by two family members and a male nurse who was responsible for caring for the patient during flight. It took a little over an hour to fly to Same, collect the patient and return, delivering them to the Dili based ambulance staff who will then oversee their transportation from Dili airport to the National Hospital.
At 4.35pm, Jason was airborne again heading for Maliana to collect the ambulance mechanics. With a storm blocking his usual route, Jason needed to make a detour to avoid the weather and arrive in Maliana in just thirty minutes. Phone calls to the mechanics throughout the day had kept them informed of their changing departure times due to the many medevac requests. Fortunately they were very understanding and patient and were prepared to spend the night in Maliana if they needed to but were glad to be heading home. At 5.45pm, twelve hours after he rolled out of bed that morning, Jason was landing VH-MQO for the final time for the day at Nicolau Lobato International Airport, Dili. In those twelve hours he had flown ten sectors, carried 19 passengers, three of whom were medical emergencies and spent 6.7 hours in the plane. What a difference one pilot and one plane can make in one day in Timor-Leste!