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Pilot Nomad and villagers inspect the airstrip.

Forty-Year Wait!

*Please note that this event took place before the COVID-19 crisis.  That is why the pilots are not wearing masks and are not social distancing.  

“We’ve wanted an airstrip in that location for 40 years!” 

Ed Casteel has been working with the Wana since 1979.  So he wasn’t exaggerating as he celebrated the first landing of the Kodiak in the location where he first began, though he now works on translation from the USA. 

“The Wana region is so vast, it can take literally days to get from one village to another,” says Ed.  Though the government is building makeshift roads into parts of the interior regions of Wana-land, they are often impassable in rainy season. Not every village is connected either.

When the government road-building bulldozer was working in “Ed’s” village, the Wana church saw an opportunity:  They asked for help in constructing a 600-meter airstrip just below and adjacent to the village – to replace one further away that had been washed out by a flood a few years ago.  The bulldozer would do in a few days what would take months to do by hand.  With an airstrip in place, the Ethnos360 Aviation Kodiak could connect this village to other Wana villages and even to sister churches on other islands, facilitating teaching, conferences and seminars.

Once the bulldozer did the rough work, the Wana villages stepped up to get the airstrip into shape.  They used a Wacker Packer to firm up the soft spots and tackled the task of clearing the brush from the sides and ends of the strip. 

After a thorough inspection (see The Pilot’s Perspective, below), the long-awaited day arrived.  “The Kodiak was able to make the first landing and the airstrip has been officially approved!” rejoiced Ed. 

The Wana church has lots of events on the docket in the future – and this new airstrip will come in handy.  One of the events will involve a discipleship team conducting a youth retreat while church leaders and parents have sessions on strengthening families and raising kids.   Just like people everywhere, they are grappling with how families and youth face the challenges of this day and age. 

The Pilot’s Perspective

“We want to be next!”  Last year when Ethnos360 Aviation opened a long-unused airstrip in another Wana area, the people of the village mentioned above were standing in line for their turn. 

But making an airstrip is no easy task:  finding terrain that is flat enough and long enough is difficult in the mountains.  Add to that the challenges of land rights, gardens and coconut trees, and you have a lot of complex cultural barriers to navigate, wrote pilot’s wife Elizabeth Peck. 

Last August, after an initial survey, her husband, Ethnos360 Aviation pilot Jamin Peck, worked with the people to agree on a site, and work began.  In record time, construction was complete.  But before the plane could land for the first time, the airstrip needed to be checked for dangerous soft spots.  Jamin and his co-worker, pilot Nomad Nelman, landed at the nearest airstrip and began the motorbike trip up and down steep trails, fording rivers, pushing their rented motorcycles through the mud.  The motorbikes were not built to do that type of driving, so the owners had stripped them of their back brakes to make it easier to put on chains.  Not the drive chain, but mud chains on the tires! “It was tricky riding with only front brakes, especially going down the slippery, muddy slopes,” said Jamin.

After two hours – and less than eight miles – of dangerous driving, the pilots arrived at the new airstrip and began checking it for soft dirt, measuring the useable length for takeoff and landing, and advising the Wana construction crew of final preparations. 

A few weeks later, Jamin and Nomad landed on the strip for the first time.  Once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, that village will be on the flight schedule twice a month.  What a boost to the believers there, as they have just begun a discipleship program!

 

Pilots Jamin and Nomad (standing in back) buckle missionaries and church leaders into the Kodiak on a flight to the new airstrip.

When you donate to Missionary Flight Sponsorship, you are instrumental in encouraging indigenous believers among the Wana and other people groups by supporting aviation service.  Thank you for caring enough to be concerned and compassionate members of the Body of Christ. 

 

 

Tags: Asia-Pacific region, Kodiak Aircraft, Wana People,
POSTED ON Apr 26, 2020 by Wonita Werley