Story by Lungpinglak Domtta and Neetha David.
Lungpinglak, called Ping by those who know him, is a relief pilot, and acting Operations Manager serving with MAF in Dili, Timor Leste. He had a flight scheduled for the 1st of July. Because a majority of MAF flights in Timor Leste are medical evacuations, having a flight scheduled a few days earlier was slightly unusual.
Having woken up earlier than usual on the 1st of July, Ping drove to the airport in Dili and started getting the aircraft ready for the flight. He checked the tyres and lights and made sure there was enough fuel. He went through his pre-flight checklist.
Around 8 am, a team from Servico Autonomo de Medicamentos e Equipapmentos de Saude (SAMES), the National Medical Stores of Timor Leste under the Ministry of Health, arrived. They were on their way to Oecusse, an isolated region of Timor Leste, cut off from the rest of the country, to deliver COVID vaccines. The three passengers completed their pre-flight paperwork, and 475 Astra Zeneca and 200 Sinovac vaccines were loaded onto the MAF aircraft. Each box had to be weighed individually and placed strategically to ensure the centre of gravity of the aircraft was maintained. Soon, Ping and the team from SAMES were off, carrying with them the precious cargo of vaccines.
Oecusse, also known as Oecusse Ambeno, is a coastal municipality and a Special Administrative Region that is cut off from the rest of Timor Leste. Surrounded by Indonesia (where international travel restrictions are in place due to COVID), access to Oecusse is limited to a 15-hour ferry from Dili or a 50-minute flight. The problem of transporting vaccines by boat is that the vaccines need to be stored at specific temperatures and this would not have been possible on the ferry. On the MAF flight, the vaccines reached their destination in under an hour.
On landing in Oecusse, a team from the hospital there were waiting for the vaccines. A handing over ceremony had been organised, and Ping was also invited to attend. The vaccines were handed over at the ceremony, and the three team members from SAMES and Ping boarded the aircraft again for the flight home.
“I was very happy to be a part of this flight. To play a role in bringing hope and healing to people in isolated communities is such a blessing! I know the vaccines will help protect the communities living in Oecusse,” says Ping.