It's been yet another wet week out here in the mountains of Papua with some places getting more than their fair share of water. Enarotaili is one such place located at 5500ft in the Paniai district of Papua on the banks of Lake Paniai which is by far the largest body of freshwater in Papua. It's a beautiful sight from the air and you have to double check your altimeter to realise you really are flying over such huge body of water at such an altitude.
As the flood waters have begun to encroach on the runway at Enarotaili, I wanted to take a walk to the threshold and check out just how deep the waters were getting. So, boots off, I started walking.
However, the water level was a fair bit deeper than it looks in the above photo due to it being crystal clear and having waded up to my knees, I then had to make use of a small canoe to get all the way to the beginning of the runway and the small road that runs perpendicular to it. You certainly wouldn't want to try landing on the threshold as that was about 2ft underwater. Not being a float-plane pilot, it's quite a new concept to have to watch for boats on the runway as I flare for the landing...
The small road that runs perpendicular to the runway, just before the threshold, links Enarotaili to the outlying villages to the north which have now been cut off by the rising water levels. Boats have always been used around these parts, with it's many water ways, but cars and especially motorbikes are also commonly used. For the time being, they've become redundant. The rising water levels have also claimed a number of houses along the north
eastern side of the runway and they now sit mostly underwater
being only a single story high.
Of course Enarotaili's not the only place that's been getting a lot of rain and some airstrips have been cut off for a couple of weeks now. I finally managed to get into Modio after well over two weeks of trying. The valley it's located in has been under a constant rain cloud for all that time in the mornings, so we've not been able to get in there to delivery the rice supplies. Deneode is another such airstrip that's been suffering thanks to being located on a ridge that's been sitting in the clouds for nearly as long. But if you wait long enough, a gap in the weather will eventually appear on one of the mornings. The one advantage we have with the rice loads is that if you can't land at the assigned destination, you can drop it off somewhere else nearby rather than having to RTB (return to base).
The biggest concern with all the rain, aside from flying in clouds a lot, is the condition of the airstrips we go to. I'd already decided not to go back to Kegata for the time being, following a pretty hairy departure the other week and prior to that the previous pilot based out of Nabire mentioned a couple of places he'd not be going until things dry out. This sharing of information is vital to preventing incidents and is something we all actively do when swapping out after a tour.
I'm now back in Timika for a few days before my next holiday and from chatting to the pilot I've replaced, Timika has been having even worst weather than Nabire with almost constant rain and low clouds most mornings. It's reckoned to continue throughout the month so I guess I'll be getting plenty of IMC flying practice in!
|Lake Paniai, Paniai district, Papua|
|Flood waters at the beginning of Enarotaili's runway|
|Jerri paddling us to the beginning of the runway at Enarotaili, Papua|
|Road leading out from Enarotaili to the northern villages|
|Villagers sheltering from the rain under the wings at Deneode, Papua|
|Deneode locals taking shelter from the rain|
|Standing water hiding in the long grass at Bidau, Papua|
|A wet and muddy Apowo airstrip, Papua|