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Simon Hardern Discusses Support for PX073
from the Team Members’ Perspective

Simon Hardern


Air Niugini Flight PX 073 departed from Pohnpei, Papua New Guinea, to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, on Friday 28 September 2018. The flight had a planned stopover in Chuuk, Micronesia; at 0920, on approach to Runway 22 on Chuuk, for as a yet unexplained reason, the aircraft crashed into the sea just short of the runway. The flight was evacuated with all passengers and crew accounted for apart from one Indonesian citizen. Reports were originally made purporting that the unaccounted for passenger had evacuated the plane and that he had possibly swum to a nearby shore. An initial search of the plane did not find a body on board; however, a subsequent, third, search located the remains of what turned out to be the missing passenger. Four other injured passengers were successfully medevacked to Guam. Kenyon supported the incident with four First Responders, a Media Call Centre, a Crisis Communications Director, a Family Assistance Data Management Team and a Repatriation Assistance Team.

Collective Thoughts

Every incident Kenyon attends is different, so the skills and tasks that are required of a Kenyon Team Member when responding will always need to be adjusted accordingly. The Air Niugini incident response, which happened over a two-week period in late September and early October, while relatively minor in terms of the numbers involved, due to the environmental complications, it was best classified as a major incident. It involved a single passenger fatality from Air Niugini Flight PX 073 on Friday, 28 September 2018; that said, it happened in a location that was, perhaps, as remote as any airliner accident that Kenyon has dealt with in the past seven years or so. The deployment was interesting from several aspects, highlighting the challenges and frustrations that can arise and, in matching these, testing Team Members in their powers to overcome adversity.

Air Niugini Memorial

The repatriation of the deceased passenger was highly complex due to the remoteness of Chuuk and the limited infrastructure on the island (part of the Federated States of Micronesia) where the Boing 737 crashed. Despite the circumstances, many things here went very well. Team Members contacted the members of the Emergency Operations Centre (island Airport Fire Station) immediately upon landing and were able to form a plan that eased a few tensions between the hospital and the authorities and set in motion a process to safely and respectfully move the deceased out of the hospital. A special trip was also made to thoroughly decontaminate the hospital and ease concerns of the hospital directors and staff as to biological risks from the body of the deceased.

Kenyon arranged the post mortem exam (autopsy), the embalming and the delivery of the casket (from Guam), which we then escorted to the family home of the young Indonesian man who lost his life. The repatriation was no easy task but it could have been much harder had the Team Members involved on Chuuk not been so incredibly helpful. Their adaptability and flexibility was fantastic, seemingly knowing no bounds. Such a 'can-do' spirit was instrumental in quickly overcoming many of the typical hurdles that Team Members have faced in the past when attending similar incidents in other far-flung parts of the world. The repatriation programme that began on 7 October concluded just over 48 hours later on 9 October in a thoughtful and highly sensitive manner that took close account of all cultural issues.

Whilst occasionally frustrating, this deployment was an excellent reminder that things do not always progress in the way we would like to see. It was a good demonstration that the soft skills, such as patience, flexibility and keeping an open mind, are just as important as hard skills and technical knowledge when adjusting to the changing and varied environment of a deployment.

Kenyon may be re-engaged by Air Niugini later this year (or early next) to recover and process the personal effects of the 35 passengers and the 12 flight crew affected, once the aircraft wreckage has been lifted from the sea bed.

In closing, thank you again to all the Kenyon staff and Team Members for continuously creating a professional, supportive and conducive work atmosphere. We were truly honoured to have been part of the Air Niugini response team.

Contributers to this Report were:

Tara Mackay - Team Member (Repatriation Team)

Winsome Lee - Team Member (Family Assistance Data Manager)

Sarah Ellingham - Team Member (Family Assistance Data Manager)