Days of adventure with Denis Buchanan: Leo Butler

Back in the early 1960s, when I returned to Lae in a marketing capacity, I was visiting Goroka and naturally my first call was to again meet Denis Buchanan who had taken over Territory Airlines in the late 1950s. TAL was a customer of Mobil and it was vital to have good PR with Denis as he was a man of vision and planned to vastly expand his fledgling airline.

This particular day I chartered one of his Cessnas to visit Minj, Banz, Kundiawa, finally ending up at Mt Hagen. I spent the next two days in Mt Hagen as Manton Bros had just bought out Danny Leahy who had been our agent at Hagen since 1945.

Denis turned up on the Thursday afternoon and we later caught up at the Hagen Club. After a rather heavy night we met for breakfast on the Friday and, as he was returning to Goroka about midday, he offered me a lift there so that I could catch the afternoon flight with MAL back to Lae.

However, unbeknownst to me, Denis had sacked one of his young pilots and he turned out to be our pilot back to Goroka. As we took off from Hagen the complement of the Cessna was the pilot, Denis and yours truly.

As we raced down the Hagen strip the pilot kept the aircraft on the ground until he appeared to have reached maximum speed then the aircraft rose like an Empire State Building Lift, out of control, with my stomach bursting with pain and my head feeling not much better!

Denis, who was sitting in the Co-Pilots seat, was screaming at the Pilot all sorts of foul language and abuse. 

We eventually reached maximum height and passed over the mountain ridge at the entrance to the Goroka valley. After the pilot lined up the strip from this height he put the aircraft into a steep dive towards the end of the strip and then, at the last minute, side swept the plane level and finally touched down on the Goroka strip, with Denis still screaming abuse at the pilot.

When I finally staggered from the Cessna I said to Denis “Why the hell did you not sack him when we finally got to Goroka?”

Denis laughed and said “Welcome to the Joys of Flying in PNG!”

This was one of many adventures I experienced with this great personality.


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