It was 1997, my first year at EMTV. El Nino was at its worst and the water level the Sirinumu Dam was at its lowest.
I was new on the job and keen to film effects of El Nino on Port Moresby City. NCDC had implemented water and power rationing to conserve the precious water at the Dam.
Cameraman, the late Kenny Merriam, and I travelled to Sogeri at about 10am to film pictures at the Dam. It was the first time I had been inside the dam area.
Water levels had dropped to unprecedented levels. It was, indeed, the worst drought since the 1980s.
Kenny lugged the large, heavy 3CCD camcorder and the old aluminium tripod and began filming. By the time he finished, he found that the vehicle wouldn’t start. We tried everything we could but nothing worked.
By 5pm, a mechanic from PNG power arrived to assist. It took him about an hour to sand the points where the spark plugs touch. Then, a few minutes later, he started the vehicle.
It was getting dark as we made our way out from the dam to the main road. The road was rough and made travel slow. When we reached the main road, night had descended.
Things didn’t feel right.
A few kilometrs down, Kenny said: ‘Hey did you see someone crossing the road behind us?” I didn’t say anything. It was odd. There were no villages nearby and no people.
We drove further down along the long winding Sogeri road. . Further away from where Kenny had asked his strange question, we came to a sharp corner with a few potholes. Kenny had to slow down as he manoeuvred the vehicle.
It was a HiAce van. Bad for potholes.
Just as he slowed, a figure popped up beside the vehicle, wrapped his arm tightly around Kenny’s neck and put, what appeared to be a sawn off shotgun to Kenny’s head.
“Slow down! Slow down! Or Bai mi sutim yu!
The clarity of mind fled. Kenny raised one hand and slowed the vehicle. About six of them pulled out Kenny, then came over to my side and forced me out as well.
We were pushed into the back of the vehicle. I turned around to see heir faces and one of them shouted: “Don’t look at me! Yu lukluk lo wanem?!”
Another took a metal pipe and hit me over the head with one end. For a moment, I blacked out. I put my hand to my head to feel if there was any blood. Nothing.
But a rather large bump was forming on my head where the pipe had struck.
Two of them forced Kenny and I on to the floor of the van. I was on my side in a feotal position in the cramped space. There was no room to move or resist. One of them put his knee heavily on my shoulder and pinned me onto the floor.
With both hands, he put the tip of double sided dagger just under my ribcage. He pressed down on the dagger whenever I tried to move. We didn’t see where we were going except we knew we were heading to Port Moresby.
After an hour, we drove off the main road. I could tell because we were driving on rough road and I could hear the grass against the underside of the vehicle.
Suddenly we stopped.
‘Get out! Get out,’ they said. We got out. Then they asked us where we were from. Then one of them, the leader, I guessed, said: “Boys… noken bagarapim skin blo ol. Just taitim ol na yumi go. (Don’t hurt them, just tie them up and let’s go.)
They couldn’t find ropes. So they just took our boots and the jeans we were wearing and they drove off. We were left with boxers and the t-shirts we were wearing. It was pitch black and we didn’t know where we were.
We walked a few meters up the road then we saw the slight silhouette of a pair of houses. We walked up the hill and found a small compound.
It was about 9pm when we got there. We called out and a kid of about 17 came out. This was the home of a Goilala family who lived there. They helped us with some clothes. We later found out we had been left a few kilometrs behind the McGregor Police barracks.
The kid’s older brother then took us to the back gate of the police barracks left us there.
With the help of police, we were able to get to Boroko where we filed a report. Nobody was caught. Our camera was later recovered.
This was perhaps the worst of the six armed hold up incidents I encountered in Port Moresby in 1997 and 1998.
It was an interesting period.