27.10.2008

Presently the situation is like that: the options with the Kamov helicopter are so far a big question mark. Like I wrote before, an unlicensed Kamov with pilot Vladimir is not available at all. Meanwhile, so far as we do not have the needed administrative strings to pull in relation to the Kamov helicopter based on Biak Island - we are trying to resolve this, but preliminary forecasts indicate that the results are forthcoming no sooner than the first days of November. That is why we mostly rely on BELL helicopters for the time being.

The only experienced pilot who overflies to the base camp will fly over from Jakarta to Nabire on October 4. So far attempts at having him return sooner for a monetary compensation are being discussed between his side and ours. In a matter of hours we will be contacting that pilot to find out how much we are talking and whether he could arrive sooner. In the course of these discussions we hit upon another option and are focusing most of our attention on it. The fact is, BELL is a two-pilot helicopter, meaning that it is piloted by a captain and a co-pilot. The captain is the exact pilot who is now in Jakarta. His co-pilot is also in Jakarta now, resting after having flown another 500 hours. He is entitled to rest under the local labor code. Four days ago this pilot flew to base camp as a captain, since the main pilot had left for Jakarta by then.

Thus, we presently have two pilots who have experience landing a BELL helicopter at the base camp of Carstensz Pyramid - they both had flown the same number of hours there. It's just that one did so as captain and the other as co-pilot. This time the co-pilot flew there as captain assisted by a different co-pilot.

The situation that required him to fly to base camp is following: a team of Belgians accompanied by local guides and porters trekked to the base camp of Carstensz from Ilaga. The receiving side promised they would return through the mine. Allegedly, they made arrangements with the mine administration. In reality, these special arrangements did not work out, as usual, and the team was stuck at the base camp, as they set all porters free immediately upon arriving at base camp, being certain that they would not need them anymore. After spending nearly a week at the base camp, while one of the guides trekked back to Ilaga to fetch the porters, one of their team members got ill. Eventually this was resolved by a call to the insurance company: a BELL helicopter based in Nabire was sent on an evacuation mission. Since the main pilot was away at the moment, the co-pilot had to fly.
This pilot, now has an experience of independent landing at the base camp, will be in Nabire on October 28 in time for the trial flights of the new BELL helicopter I had written about, scheduled for October 29 and 30. Theoretically, we could use him on October 31 to fly our first team to the base camp. So far we are communicating with this pilot via an intermediary, but tomorrow we will be able to contact him directly. According to the intermediary, the pilot is prepared to fly our team.

A BELL helicopter needs 2.5 hours for the trip to the base camp and back. This includes engine startup and warm-up time. On the way back, the helicopter makes a refueling stop in the community of Enarotali (you can locate it on the map - on the way between Nabire and the base camp). A mandatory condition on which the helicopter will leave Nabire for the base camp is an availability of sufficient fuel for a refueling stop in Enarotali. Fuel is delivered to Enarotali by a truck from Nabire. For the number of our necessary trips we will need 6 barrels of kerosene (200 liters each). As soon as the pilot confirms he can fly, we will have to pay for fuel and its delivery to Enarotali. Obviously, this will not happen before tomorrow.

So far the weather is more or less fine. It is always sunny on mornings, but rainfall sets in after lunch and lasts until 4 a.m.

I started to enrich my vocabulary with different signal words in Indonesian. Now I can readily use a few dozen words. I had a problem remembering the word "thank you" - in Indonesian it sounds like "tri-ma-ka-si" - a rather long word. To remember it, I thought of an eponymous word combination in Russian, namely "tri makaki" [three apes]. When Bob inquired how I managed to remember words, I told him about how I do this, offering the word "thank you" as an example. When Bob (who is naturally slightly overweight) learned how his native Indonesian "thank you" sounds in Russian, he grabbed on to a palm tree not to tip over and spent the next five minutes laughing so hard that I feared he might explode.

There have been certain changes in the schedule of flights from Biak Island to Nabire. The thing is that our 7 a.m. flight that had to take our team members from the island was fully booked for government needs. As a result, we had to change our tickets for the next flight at 11 a.m. Until then everybody will stay at the same hotel without a toilet bowl and with a barrelful of water for a shower. Unfortunately, this is the only kind they have on Biak.

Besides endless negotiations associated with organizing helicopter trips, Bob and I also spent a fair amount of time on different household chores, the main objective being to "transform Cinderella into a princess". We tried to turn Nabire's best hotel from a one-star outfit into at least a one-and-a-half start joint. To this end, we stormed the supermarket to buy enough toilet paper, towels, shampoos, toothbrushes, moist tissues, beer - everything a modern full-fledged one-and-a-half-star hotel could not exist without in our understanding. Our main achievement was buying mobile phones with local SIM cards for each team member - they did not cost much and will help all of us stay in touch now. All team members are currently registering in Jakarta for a flight to Biak Island. Twelve hours later they should be in Nabire.

This is all for now. Stay tuned for more news and fresh photos tomorrow morning.

Reporting from the scene.