An incident in Poroma: Gerald Yates

The beautiful gently undulating valley of Poroma was the place we had decided to set up our business as a trading company. This was way back in 1968. The three of us with very limited funds and a great deal of help from the Commonwealth Bank in Mt Hagen had set up a tent [borrowed] not far from the neat Patrol Post where Noel Wright was the OIC.

Our main supplies came from Hagen by air, as the roads were slow and not very smooth! My partner and I flew off to Hagen to order stock for our new store and freezer supplies for us.  Flying back to Poroma in a Cessna 206 [VH-GKM] were two of us in the rear of the aircraft and a pile of goods up to the roof between us and two pilots in the front.

The correct flight approach to Poroma strip was a left turn within the wide valley and on to the 1500 ft strip; however most pilots flew along the Erave River turning left over a saddle in a ridge and on to the strip. The pilots were in good spirits trying to scare us with such remarks as ‘What happens if I push this button?’  My colleague, a nervous flier at the best of times, was suitably terrified.  It was a cloudy morning (not unusual) as we approached our destination; we flew down the river and turned over the saddle on approach [but] noticed that we were flying too high and not descending properly. 

Two thirds of the strip had gone by before we touched our wheels on the wet grass. My companion and I were saying our prayers!

The pilots attempted to do a ‘ground loop’, an emergency procedure to wipe off forward speed, immediately the nose wheel dug in to the soft earth and over we went.  We were hanging upside down in our harnesses whilst the curious locals were approaching; some with their newspaper cigarettes alight!  The pilots exited, but our doors wouldn’t open because the flaps were fully down (up) blocking the rear doors. The hinge-pins were pulled and we tumbled out…to the smell of avgas and battery acid!
We were very relieved to note that we had flipped a few metres before the end of the airstrip, where there was a small drop off of two metres or so!

The flipped Cessna

Why the passenger door would not open. Note all the cargo!

The aircraft had to have its wings cut off and they were loaded in a twin otter and flown to Mendi, the fuselage was wheeled by the locals over land and flying foxed over rivers to Mendi.  I have flown since in the repaired aircraft, with a little trepidation!

Photos taken by the APO Poroma, 1968.

Further to Gerald Yates’ account of his incident at Poroma in Cessna 206 VH-GKM, Robert Shaw sent these photos taken by either Dave or Chris Parker. Bob Shaw fictionalised this recovery trek to form part of the plot in his second novel, Fire Cult.

Bob’s records show the date of the accident as 28 March 1968.

The wings were in fact dismantled and carried cross country along with the fuselage. They also endured the precarious ‘flying fox’ river crossing as shown in the photos.


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