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Samaritan Aviation Provides Only Air Ambulance Service in Papua New Guinea

By Barbara A. Schmitz

  • Samaritan Aviation provides only air ambulance service in Papua New Guinea
    Mark Palm shows off the refurbished Cessna U206-GC that will become Samaritan Aviation’s second floatplane to provide emergency evacuation flights, medicine delivery, disaster relief, and community health programs in Papua New Guinea.
  • Samaritan Aviation provides only air ambulance service in Papua New Guinea
    Learn more about Samaritan Aviation by visiting its booth at the EAA Seaplane Base.
July 23, 2015 - Mark Palm recalls flying into a village and landing his Cessna 206 floatplane on the Sepik River to pick up a woman with life-threatening pregnancy complications.

“She was completely unconscious,” he recalls. “I didn’t have much hope.”

They loaded the woman in the plane and flew her to the nearest hospital. But with no more room in the plane, her husband was forced to travel by canoe, arriving at the hospital three days later, unsure whether his wife was dead or alive.

“He was told his wife would probably die, and that it would be too late for his twin babies, so he first went to the morgue,” Palm says. “He had come to town to pick up their bodies and take them home to be buried.”

But his wife or children weren’t in the morgue. “He discovered his wife and babies were alive,” Palm says. “His response was, ‘I don’t deserve this.’ But we talked about why we were here, to share God’s love, and for him it was an eye-opener that someone else would care…”

Palm doesn’t just care. He makes a difference.

Samaritan Aviation operates the only floatplane in Papua New Guinea, serving those living in the East Sepik Province through emergency evacuation flights, medicine delivery, disaster relief, and community health programs.

Palm visited the area at 19 and saw the medical and spiritual needs of the people. “It’s so remote,” he says. “Little things like a small cut can turn into tropical ulcers, and people can lose their legs.” While young, he realized a floatplane would provide access to those remote areas and allow them to help.

A pastor’s son who had worked at his parent’s homeless mission in California, Palm went back to the United States and to school, eventually earning a commercial pilot certificate with an instrument and floatplane rating, as well as an FAA aircraft mechanic certificate.

In 2000, Samaritan Aviation incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and started raising awareness of its mission. Palm wrote a fundraising letter and mailed it to 330 people, with the goal of starting the air ambulance service in five years.

“But no one was lining up to give money to some 25-year-old with a dream,” he says.

However, he didn’t give up. Ten years after sending out that first fundraising card, he made it. In 2010, Palm moved to Wewak, Papua New Guinea, to begin flight operations with his wife, Kirsten, and their three children.

Besides transporting the ill, the floatplane also transports caregivers who can help patients at the hospital.

Samaritan Aviation has also delivered more than 100,000 medical supplies that would have taken three or four months to get to remote clinics without their floatplane. In addition, they work in disaster relief, search and rescue, and community development programs.

While they have been working with only one airplane, they will add another one to their fleet this year. “We were just able to retrofit a 1981 Cessna U206-GC and will be shipping that over in October,” Palm says. It can be seen at the EAA Seaplane Base this week.

The second plane will ensure that a plane is always available, especially if one has mechanical problems or if they are waiting to receive replacement parts, he says.

Currently, 50 percent of their funding comes from the PNG government; the remaining 50 percent comes from private individuals and foundations in America.

Palm says his goal at AirVenture is to network and gain exposure for the organization. “We use volunteer pilots, and our staff raise their own funding to come to Papua New Guinea. Plus, we are trying to get more people involved on a monthly basis, whether it is donating $20, $50, or $100.”

But they also hope to inspire people to get involved and make a difference. “We hope that message of loving your neighbor as yourself will resonate with people, and encourage them to get involved in their community and make a difference.”

Numbers show they are effective. Since 2010, they have saved 390 lives, and 60 percent of those were mothers and babies. In 2014 alone, they saved 103 lives, including 60 mothers and children, by flying more than 300 hours in 117 emergency flights.

But Palm says he and his family are the lucky ones. “To go into a place and save a life and be part of that is an amazing experience,” he says. “We love it.”