All Kagua Flights Suspended After Helicopter Robbery

KAGUA (SHP) - A helicopter company in Papua New Guinea has suspended all flights to Kagua district in Southern Highlands after a pilot and crew member were held up and robbed by a gang of thugs.

The Bell 407 helicopter belonging to Heli Solutions Limited was piloted by the company’s co-owner and chief executive officer Captain Phil Emeck. A crew member was with him.

The company was engaged by the Electoral Commission to transport election officials and materials during the local level government elections in the highlands provinces.

The aircraft was doing its scheduled flights to Kagua and Erave districts when the incident happened.

Emeck was held up by heavily-armed thugs at the remote Katiloma Bible Mission station last Wednesday.

He said he was returning from Sembirigi and Marorogo after dropping off officials, ballot papers and boxes and stopped to refuel at Katiloma en-route to Mt Hagen.

He said it was about 1pm when about 30 thugs armed with bush knives and guns confronted him and a crew member.

They demanded K10, 000 (US$4,200) or they would burn the K7 million (US$3 million) aircraft or damage it.

Emeck tried to explain that they were from Mendi and they did not have the required amount. He offered the thugs K1,000 which he had in his pocket. They refused to accept that and told him to fly alone to Mt Hagen and bring back the K10,000.

They wanted the crew member to stay back with them.

Emeck, fearing for their lives and the safety of the aircraft gave them another K5,000 (US$2,100) which he had brought to buy timber. The gang after some time took the money and allowed them to leave.

Emeck owns the helicopter company with fellow Southern Highlander Capt James Pilot. They are both former PNG Defence Force pilots who resigned to start their own aviation company.

He described the incident as “frightening and barbaric”, adding that it was not the first time thugs in the area had tried to attack helicopters and planes.

Emeck said they reported the incident to Mendi police.

He said the incident had forced the company to suspend all flights into Kagua.[IslandBusiness]
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