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Jurgen Ruh, ‘helicopter driver’ who did more than 500 medivacs out of Morobe

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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.”

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