Thursday the 13th of October will forever be imprinted in the minds of many Papua New Guineans as the day of the one of its worst aviation disasters. An Airlines PNG Dash 8 aircraft carrying 32 crew and passengers from Lae to Madang, crashed into scrubland near the village of Makarum in the Rai Coast District of Madang province, at around 5 PM . There were 28 lives lost and 4 survivors.
News about the air disaster hit the social media networks. Indeed, a lot of the posts by people on Facebook were very accurate. That evening, journalists in Madang scrambled around town checking local authorities for information but information was scarce. Also the same evening, a rescue team, including medical staff from Modilon general Hospital, was dispatched to the site.
The next day there was a lot of activity around town. Police rescue and recovery teams were assembled at the waterfront. They were later on joined by another medical team. The teams then boarded the Ramu Nico Catamaran and headed for the crash site. Another team of Police and Civil Aviation officials were airlifted to the crash site.
During the day, relatives of the victims continued to pour into the premises of Modilon General Hospital. Five Divine Word University students whose relatives were on board the fated flight were brought over to the hospital. The staff at the hospital explained to the relatives that the remains could be burnt beyond recognition. There were many somber faces and some openly wept. All relatives were housed under a large thatched structure near the offices of hospital staff.
Students at Divine Word University were in a state of shock. Many expressed sympathy towards the losses by their colleagues. They also questioned the wisdom of the School administration to have a Thanksgiving Ceremony for final year students and their parents. Some said that they were concerned about the sense of guilt with which their colleagues would live with. The University also did not fly flags at half mast as a sign of respect.
Of all four survivors of the crash, only one was admitted to the hospital. This was a male Chinese national. The other three were the two pilots and a Papua New Guinean. The pilots remained at a hotel in Madang.
Later that afternoon the remains of all 28 victims, were flown into Madang by helicopter. The body bags were laid out at the emergency department in an enclosed area. There were clouded eyes and many distraught relatives were joined by curious onlookers. Crowds surged within and outside the hospital premises. Some bodies would then be transported to Lae for DNA identification.
Meanwhile the National Government has now shelved the proposed merger between Air Niugini and Airlines PNG. Authorities have also quarantined fuel at Lae airport, from whence the flight had departed. Individuals and Businesses in Madang donated food and refreshments in support of the staff of Modilon General Hospital and the grieving relatives.
A memorial service will be held at Divine Word University Today.