For helicopter pilot, Jurgen Ruh, each day begins very early. Jurgen is a 30 year veteran in the Papua New Guinea aviation industry.
Over the last 10 years, Jurgen’s company, Manolos Aviation, has since become an integral part of Morobe’s community aviation story. This is primarily because of the work he has personally done over the decade. It’s sometimes difficult to convince him that he played an important role in saving many lives.
“I’m just a driver of a helicopter who happens to have the resources which is helicopter and pilots and the will to help others,” Jurgen says.
In 2017, Jurgen and his team of pilots, engineers and nurses, did more than 250 medivacs. In 2018, over 170 people were brought in for medical treatment. Most of those flown in were women suffering from birth complications who come from places that don’t have road access. Jurgen flies nearly all of the company’s medivacs and does the riskiest flights. The most satisfying part of his job making sure people get to hospital.
As the daughter of the most sought after helicopter pilot in Morobe, Alexandra Ruh, grew up in a home where her father was usually away at work.
“Growing up, he wasn’t really there all the time. I never really knew what he was actually doing with his life. I thought he was just flying helicopters.”
It took medivac to change all that. Jurgen invited Alexandra to fly with him when she was in 10. The weather was bad and when they got to the location, Jurgen had to hover to allow the nurse to get off because there was nowhere safe enough to land.
“I never really appreciated what he was doing until much later. Every day that that he missed for me, a child had his mother and a wife had her husband. That to me is the most beautiful give you can give anyone.
“Over time,I went for arguing with my father to laughing with my father and crying with my father.”
Jurgen’s personal mission to save lives began in 2009 after the death of a patient he transported to Lae. He flew a 16-year-old with a birth complication from Lablab to Lae. But overnight, the teen died because nobody attended to her.
“After that, I said to myself, you can do better than this.”
When Jurgen first came to the country, he ran a marine salvage business. In 2004, he decided to include an aviation arm to his marine operation. When the 2008 global financial crisis hit the US and other large economies, demand in the maritime sector shrunk and as the shipping industry itself against the downturn. But domestically, helicopter businesses grew as mining companies invested in exploration.
One of the medivacs that stands out happened On Easter 2017 when the Manolos crew received a distress call from Marawaka in the Eastern Highlands. A mother had just given birth to triplets and the local aid post could not deal with the emergency.
“We had to do a lot of research because the location was not on the government gazette,” Jurgen said after the rescue. “The triplets were babies four, five and six. She had two other pregnancies and two babies died. That’s gives you an idea of how difficult it is for mothers in rural areas.”
The triplets and their mother spent a little over two months at Angau hospital. They were also supported by the Manolos crew during their stay. It’s something the crew do for nearly every patient admitted to hospital. When the time came for the mothers and babies to go back, the Manolos crew was at the center of the celebrations.
“It was an emotional time for us all,” Nurse Pendek Sitong who went on the initial rescue recalled. “Usually we rescue one baby. This was a jackpot.”
Over three decades, his job as a helicopter pilot, has given Jurgen a unique insight into the problems faced by people in the most remote parts of Papua New Guinea. In many aid posts, it is difficult to treat some of the most basic illnesses. The logistical difficulties adds to the challenges faced by the people.
Continuing the vital services into the future remains a critical priority for Jurgen Ruh. Six years ago, he began an apprentice program for aircraft maintenance engineers. There are now six women training to become certified engineers all of them come from rural districts.
“I am very biased in that manner. I have a lot more women than men. But it’s a good way to be an unequal employer.
“I thought If I should give opportunities for women to become engineers, then they should comes from rural areas because a woman from a rural district will have the least opportunity to get into aviation.”